BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Gait disorders are common in the elderly and are related to loss of functional independence and death. White matter lesions (WMLs) may be related, but only a minority of individuals with WMLs has gait disorders. Probably other factors are involved, including location and the independent effect of frequently coinciding lacunar infarcts, the other aspect of cerebral small vessel disease. The aim of our study was to investigate the effect of both the severity and location of both WMLs and lacunar infarcts on gait.
METHODS: Four hundred thirty-one independently living, nondemented elderly aged between 50 and 85 years with cerebral small vessel disease were included in this analysis and underwent MRI scanning. The number and location of lacunar infarcts were rated and WML volume was assessed by manual segmentation with automated delineating of different regions. Gait was assessed quantitatively with an electronic walkway as well as the semiquantitatively Tinetti and Timed-Up-and-Go test.
RESULTS: WMLs and lacunar infarcts were both independently associated with most gait parameters with stride length as the most sensitive parameter related to WMLs. WMLs in the sublobar (basal ganglia/internal capsule) and limbic areas and lacunar infarcts in the frontal lobe and thalamus were related to a lower velocity.
CONCLUSIONS: Cerebral small vessel disease is related to gait disturbances. Because small vessel disease may, in part, be preventable, it should be regarded as a potentially important target for postponing gait impairment.