It has been noted that persons with dementia show difficulty walking, either slowing down or losing their balance. Many end up with a sort of “dementia shuffle”, a hesitant leaning forward shuffling step. It has also been said that persons with dementia cannot both talk and walk at the same time. So for example, when she is walking to the kitchen and you ask a question, she has to stop walking in order to process the question and answer you.
Mom has been walking quite well, despite the stroke she suffered last year. She walks well enough that a physiotherapist who saw her weeks after the stroke could not tell which side the stroke happened. Nonetheless, we have grown accustomed to her slower speed of doing things, and take as “normal” today what would have been considered “abysmally slow” in the past.
What I’ve also noticed is an uncertainty about walking that I find difficult to explain. If Mom starts leaning and holding on to someone or something to walk, she suddenly seems to lose her ability to walk alone. Or she forgets that she can walk well.
For example, if I gave my arm to Mom to help her down some steps, when we reach the bottom of the steps, she keeps leaning onto my arm as though she would not be able to stand or walk without it. But if I say, no need to hold on now, she can stand straight and walk well. Sometimes, when we enter a lift, she makes for the wall so that she can lean or hold on. Yet, when I say, no need, you’ll be alright – she can immediately recover, stand and turn well without help.
I think there are two reasons for Mom’s difficulty with walking and wanting to reach out for a crutch. The first is probably physical and due to deconditioning and weakness in the legs. I will have to take her for strengthening walks and exercises. The second reason is probably dementia itself, affecting how well her brain is able to control her legs. Most of us walk without thinking about it. Mom has to remember to keep her balance and walk. That’s why she is okay after I remind her that she can, but without this external reminder, she looks for some place to lean.