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Dementia and Walking: An Early Detection Breakthrough

Dementia is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that affects over 50 million people worldwide, with 10 million new cases every year. The number of people with dementia may reach 152 million by 2050. While big strides have been achieved in the field of neurology, dementia still stands as an incurable disease. Brain scans, blood biomarkers and testing of cognitive functions are currently the most common methods used in detection. However, these tests can be costly and invasive. Thankfully, there might be a connection between dementia and walking… and from that connection, there could be a less invasive test and earlier treatment.

People don’t pay much attention to it, but walking is a complex process. For every step a human body takes, neurons fire in a localized section of the brain. Plaque buildup, such as in the case of dementia patients, can jam the brain’s circuitry. Consequently, with delays in sending and receiving these signals, a person’s balance, speed, and gait symmetry become impaired. Additionally, patients suffering from neurodegenerative illnesses cannot respond quickly to changes in the terrain. Thus, without acuity to quickly assess the environment and adjust pace, it affects balance and speed. Indeed, the relationship between dementia and walking cannot be contradicted.

Gait Testing as a Predictor for Cognitive Decline

Gait testing as a tool for diagnosis looks at the patients’ gait cost or speed under various conditions. First, patients will walk at varying speeds (slow, normal or preferred speed, and peak speed) to establish the baseline. After completing the single task, patients will then perform the cognitive dual task and motor dual task. Ideally, a person with healthy cognitive functions can perform multiple tasks at a time. But for patients with a high risk of dementia – the ability to concentrate and focus decreases as additional tasks pile up on top of one another.

Dementia and walking, man walking up from a wheelchair
Watch the way you walk! Your gait will tell the doctor if your brain is healthy.

The succeeding tasks highlight the connection between dementia and walking. Cognitive dual task aims to measure the patient’s ability to think while simultaneously performing motor tasks. Examples of this test include walking while counting backwards or walking while repeating phrases.

Dementia and Walking Infographic Thumbnail

Dementia and Walking Infographic

On the other hand, dual motor tasks pertain to completing two motor tasks at the same time. A dual motor task aims to measure changes in gait speed when another task is added. Will the patient’s gait speed change if asked to carry a tray while walking? The answer to these questions will make up the patient’s personal gait pattern. By exhibiting unique impairment signatures through gait testing, the link between dementia and walking offers promise as an early indicator of cognitive decline.

 Joining the Quest: Studies Looking at the Link between Dementia and Walking Difficulties

Dementia can damage the brain in various ways and this includes mobility and motor skills. For people who are at risk, the exploratory studies around gait impairment as an early indicator for dementia, hold so much promise. With experts looking at changes in walking patterns and gait impairments as an early indicator of neurodegenerative diseases, private ventures are joining the research.

  • Canada-based Lawson Health Research has been granted research funding worth $1.35 million. The program dubbed as Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA) is led by Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso. The allocation of the majority of the funds will be for understanding the connection between dementia and walking. Dr. Montero-Odasso, with the Mobility, Exercise and Cognition (MEC) team will test the impact of physical exercise, cognitive training and vitamin D supplementation.
  • A collaboration between Apple, Eli Lilly and Company and Evidation Health is likewise developing. The partnership was presented in the form of a feasibility study at a Data Science Conference in Anchorage, Alaska. According to this research, devices such as iPhones, watches and sleep monitors can gather data to predict cognitive impairment.
  • Newcastle University will be working with pharmaceutical company Novartis in a project called MOBILISE-D. The project aims to develop wearable technology focused on the aging European population. With a €50 million funding from European Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking, the project aims to tap on technology to predict, detect and measure mobility loss.

Early detection is crucial in improving the patient’s quality of life. However, the opportunity to detect dementia in its early stages is not always possible. Why? Most of the early symptoms of dementia such as forgetfulness or losing track of time are often relegated as age-related memory changes. Moreover, such impaired cognitive functions manifest gradually. Thus, by the time of diagnosis, dementia has already progressed. At this point, the patient has become totally dependent on others for self-care. With experts looking at the link between dementia and walking, we may soon have a better way of catching this debilitating disease in its early stages.

Blue Moon Lunar Lander and the Next Manned Mission to the Moon and Beyond

The Apollo Space Missions saw mankind land on the moon. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the goddess of the moon and Apollo’s twin sister. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that NASA’s latest lunar mission is Project Artemis. Picking up from where the Apollo Space Mission left off fifty years ago, NASA is looking to build a human lunar landing system that will send the next man (and the first woman!) to the moon by the year 2024. However, going back to the moon is not the end-goal of this mission. From the moon, the ambitious goal is to launch a human exploration mission to Mars by the 2030s. And to get the job done, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is working with aviation companies Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

Flying to the Moon and Beyond

In the past, funding and technology were part of the reasons why moon missions had to be withdrawn. After the last Apollo Mission in 1972, there was a realignment of space exploration efforts to cover other projects. Fifty years hence, there is a renewed interest in going back to the moon. However, the project is looking at flying back to the moon in a wholly different manner. This time, sustainability and reusability are the focus of the architecture.

The project has various segments that support these two essential qualities. Why? Because a launch point on the moon is crucial in the success of future Mars exploration missions. If we are to explore the red planet down the road, we must learn to extract and harness resources along the way.

The Moon’s Necessary Resources for Mars and Deep Space Mission

  • From the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Space Launch System (SLS) has the capacity and power to go beyond lower earth orbit and carry large payloads to the moon. For sustainability, the design of the Space Launch System is flexible and highly reusable.
  • The SLS rocket will also launch the Orion Space Craft into the deep space. The role of Orion is crucial. Orion will carry the astronauts to the lunar orbit. The spacecraft will also serve as the module that will serve as the mission’s life support system and orbital outpost.
  • The Orion will not land on the surface of the moon but dock on the Gateway. The Gateway is the lunar outpost that will be deployed in the lunar orbit. From the Gateway, the crew will disembark and land on the south pole of the moon using the Blue Moon Lunar Lander.
  • The Blue Moon Lunar Lander has a state-of-the-art facility that will enable the mission to have a soft and precise landing and refuel using the water ice on the surface of the moon.
  • There is also the refurbishing of the spacesuit. The Artemis Modern Spacesuit has an advanced exploration extravehicular mobility unit or xEMU. With new functionalities, the design of the Artemis spacesuit is for flexibility, safety, better mobility, and communications.

A Closer look at the Blue Moon Lunar Lander

Blue Origin has been working on the Blue Moon Lunar Lander for the last three years. So, when NASA turned to the industry for help, Blue Origin was ready to step up to the challenge. Precise, large, and equipped with the latest technology, the Blue Moon Lunar Lander is aspirational. Unveiling the project before a select audience mid-2019, Jeff Bezos shared some of the critical features of the Blue Moon Lunar Lander.

The Blue Moon Lunar Lander can land 3.6 metric tons on the lunar surface and built with a flexible deck. The design and structure of the deck can accommodate various forms of payload. It also has davits to deploy four payloads simultaneously upon landing.

When it comes to navigation, data gathering, and sending signals back to the home base, the Blue Moon Lunar Lander is also not lacking. It has a star tracker, optical communication system, X-Band 410 Megabit Radio, flash LIDAR, and comprehensive map of the lunar surface.

Its high-performance, high-thrust, and high-throttle BE-7 engine uses liquid hydrogen and burns for seven long minutes for the descent. For refueling, the lander can extract hydrogen from lunar water ice. They are thus making repeated trips to the moon and vice versa, attainable. And since it uses hydrogen fuel cells, the Blue Moon Lunar Lander is not dependent on solar energy. Thus, it can survive the dark and long lunar nights.

Tapping on Entrepreneurial Dynamism for Space Exploration

Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos expresses his fervent interest in the project. He further shares that, “Blue Origin will be the prime contractor. Lockheed Martin is building the ascent stage. Northrop Grumman is building the transfer element, and Draper is doing the GNC… Blue Origin, in addition to being the prime, is building the descent element.” The truth is, with a mission as grand as Artemis, entrepreneurial dynamism is necessary. The project can use all the help it can get both from the government and the private sector.

Indeed, the project aims to achieve remarkable feats for humanity. From the ground systems, to launch, docking into the lunar outpost to the deployment of the Blue Moon Lunar Lander, the technology and scope involved, the goal to better understand our planet and our universe is starting to unfold.

Dementia and Walking

Dementia and walking, man walking up from a wheelchair
Watch the way you walk! Your gait will tell the doctor if your brain is healthy.