Thursday, July 26, 2012

Walk this way

As the editor of Vision Systems Design, I get to fly around a lot during the course of my work. But during my travels, there is little time to observe the behavior of the individuals in the various countries that I visit.

However, that's definitely something in which Dr. Rajshree Mootanah, the Director of the Medical Engineering Research Group at Anglia Ruskin University (Chelmsford, Essex) in the UK is interested.

You see, the learned doctor is currently involved in a project to measure the gait of individuals with the aim of using the data he acquires as a measure by which the joint functions of those who have just undergone hip or knee surgery can be assessed.

Now a lot of work in this area has already been carried out by researchers at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, one of the leading hospitals for orthopedics in the US. But the trouble is that the database of normal gaits from that hospital was captured, naturally enough, from New Yorkers.

Dr. Mootanah believes that the people in the county of Essex in the UK are likely to have a different gait to New Yorkers, and that his research project to establish a local database will allow more accurate testing and analysis of UK patients.

"The only database we have is of the New York population and we believe there may be slight but still significant differences to the way our local population walks due to the different racial make-up of the two groups," Dr. Mootanah says.

For that reason, his team is now on the lookout for volunteers, aged 18 or over, who are able to walk without impediment. The volunteers will have the force of their steps measured by special pressure plates embedded in the floor while their gait will be recorded by a 3-D motion capture system.

The results from Mootanah's research will certainly be interesting and may be more useful that he realizes. According to the New York Times, five studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver this month provided striking evidence that when a person's walk gets slower or becomes more variable or less controlled, his cognitive function is also suffering.

So not only could the database created by Mootanah be useful as a means to evaluate patients who have undergone surgery, it might also provide a valuable tool to other researchers who might also use it to evaluate the cognitive functions of individuals.

Reference: Footprints to Cognitive Decline and Alzheimer's Are seen in Gait, The New York Times, July 16, 2012.

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