Walking stability and sensorimotor function in older people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2004 Feb;85(2):245-52. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2003.06.015.


Objective: To evaluate, in older people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) and in age-matched controls, acceleration patterns of the head and pelvis when walking to determine the effect of lower-limb sensory loss on walking stability.

Design: Case-control study.

Setting: Falls and balance laboratory in Australia.

Participants: Thirty persons with diabetes mellitus (age range, 55-91 y) and 30 age-matched controls.

Interventions: Acceleration patterns of the head and pelvis were measured while participants walked on a level surface and an irregular walkway. Participants also underwent tests of vision, sensation, strength, reaction time, and balance.

Main outcome measures: Temporospatial gait parameters and variables derived from acceleration signals.

Results: Participants with DPN had reduced walking speed, cadence, and step length, and less rhythmic acceleration patterns at the head and pelvis compared with controls. These differences were particularly evident when participants walked on the irregular surface. Participants with DPN also had impaired peripheral sensation, reaction time, and balance.

Conclusions: Older people with DPN have an impaired ability to stabilize their body when walking on irregular surfaces, even if they adopt a more conservative gait pattern. These results provide further insights into the role of peripheral sensory input in the control of gait stability, and suggest possible mechanisms underlying the increased risk of falling in older people with diabetic neuropathy.

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Agnosia / physiopathology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / physiopathology*
  • Head Movements / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pelvis / physiology
  • Walking / physiology*