Background: Gait and balance impairments lead to frequent falls and injuries in individuals with Huntington's disease (HD). Assistive devices (ADs) such as canes and walkers are often prescribed to prevent falls, but their efficacy is unknown. We systematically examined the effects of different types of ADs on quantitative gait measures during walking in a straight path and around obstacles.
Methods: Spatial and temporal gait parameters were measured in 21 subjects with HD as they walked across a GAITRite walkway under 7 conditions (i.e., using no AD and 6 commonly prescribed ADs: a cane, a weighted cane, a standard walker, and a 2, 3 or 4 wheeled walker). Subjects also were timed and observed for number of stumbles and falls while walking around two obstacles in a figure-of-eight pattern.
Results: Gait measure variability (i.e., coefficient of variation), an indicator of fall risk, was consistently better when using the 4WW compared to other ADs. Subjects also walked the fastest and had the fewest number of stumbles and falls when using the 4WW in the figure-of-eight course. Subjects walked significantly slower using ADs compared to no AD both across the GAITRite and in the figure-of-eight. Measures reflecting gait stability and safety improved with the 4WW but were made worse by some other ADs.