Why do people waddle as they age

Psychiatry, Psychosomatics & Psychotherapy

01.03.2018

Disturbances in gait severely limit - especially senior citizens

Learning to walk is anything but trivial. And so it can also happen that this ability diminishes again in the course of life. In older people, there are often several causes behind it.

Just go to the bakery. Get up and get yourself a cup of coffee. Or even get out of bed in the morning. For most people, these things are part of everyday life. But for some - especially older people - they bother them. A gait disorder significantly limits life. It is all the more important not to just accept them. Most of those affected can contribute to getting better on the road again.

Gait disorders come in many different forms: some people limp, others make tiny tippy steps, and still others waddle. “Anything that deviates from the norms when walking is ultimately a gait disorder,” says Nils Lynen, specialist in orthopedics and trauma surgery from Aachen. Seniors in particular are affected by muscle loss and joint wear.

Walking is a complex process

The cause often lies in the nerves or in the musculoskeletal system. "Walking is a complex process in which bones, muscles and the nervous system as well as the organ of equilibrium interact," says Uwe Meier, neurologist in Grevenbroich. It is not for nothing that children need a long time to understand how to gallantly put one leg in front of the other. For some reason, for example, the brain or nerves are no longer sending enough impulses, walking is difficult or no longer works at all.

Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis are also sometimes expressed by a strange gait. If nerves are damaged by diabetes, alcohol, or drug abuse, those affected raise their feet excessively. Circulatory problems in the legs can cause pain. They occur, for example, after a femoral neck fracture. And in some cases, it's the psyche that interferes with the gait in one way or another.

There is another important factor in old age: wear and tear. "Above all, if the hips or knees are affected, a disturbed gait is likely," explains the physiotherapist Rita Schütte from Brilon.

Have persistent gait disorder clarified after one week

For those affected, however, it is initially difficult to determine exactly where the problems originate from. That is why: "If a gait disorder lasts longer than a week, this should be clarified by a doctor," advises Schütte. The doctor will then try to correct the cause as far as possible. Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis is primarily about stopping progress - for example by taking medication.

If a gait disorder is related to a drug, the medication must be reconsidered and changed if necessary. A difference in length between the legs can be compensated for with an insert in the shoe. If a gait disorder is caused by osteoarthritis of the hip or knee, an operation may be due.

In older people, a gait disorder is usually due to a combination of several causes, explains Meier. Circulatory disorders in the brain often cause wear and tear on nerves and joints. And because those affected then no longer move as much, they also lose muscle mass. This increases the risk of falling and breaking a complicated bone. After that, walking is often even more arduous.

In old age, the coordination of movement sequences also becomes more difficult. The treatment of gait disorders therefore always includes physiotherapy and physical applications such as exercise baths and massages. "That strengthens muscle strength and improves coordination," says Lynen.

Strengthen muscles and train balance and endurance

Regardless of the cause of the gait disturbance: Those affected usually have to actively cooperate themselves in order to be able to move better again. It is important to train the muscles, the sense of balance and endurance on a regular basis. One option is to practice walking on a treadmill with a physiotherapist.

Those affected can also keep fit at home. “Everyone can easily train coordination and endurance at the sink,” says Schütte. To do this, hold on to the pelvis, stand on one leg and draw numbers on the floor with the toes of the other foot. Gradually try not to hold on to the pelvis, but to do the exercise freehand.
Dancing is also a way to train coordination and endurance - just like Nordic walking. In addition to walking exercises, gymnastics and walks also help.

But it is also important to ensure a balanced diet with many vitamins and minerals, says Lynen. Obesity has an adverse effect, as does smoking. Too much alcohol is also harmful. If you have an athletic figure, do not smoke and only drink in moderation or not at all, you have a good chance of improving your gait again, says Meier. Some patients even manage to walk normally again at some point on their own.

Source: dpa