The ability to get from one place to another is essential to every animal. The speed at which travel takes place is an essential to determining the success or failure of everything from food acquisition to escaping danger. Gait requires input from the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, muscular power, and joint and cardiovascular health.
Because of all these systems are required to coordinate gait, gait speed is an indicator of the health of many physiological systems. In all animals, gait speed decreases with age. In humans, the speed of our mobility is predictive of so much more than if we will eat, or are eaten.
What is remarkable about testing gait speed is how much it reveals about people. Here is a laundry list.
- A decline in gait speed predicts a decline in attention
- An increase in gait speed predicts a substantial decline in mortality while a decrease in gait speed predicts an increase chance of mortality
- Gait speed correlates well with functional ability, future health status and the patient’s confidence in their balance
- Gait speed predicts where discharge will take place (home, SNF, etc.), the chance of hospitalization, an increase in medical costs, disability and mortality
- Gait speed predicts the need for rehabilitation
- Gait speed can be used to determine the effectiveness of a particular rehabilitation treatment option.
- Gait speed can be used as a surrogate for quality of gait; the faster the walking, generally speaking, the higher the quality of gait.
And much more!
Also, gait speed is modifiable. Walking speed is not only predictive of decline, it can also predict improvement.