Gait Parameters Related to Incident Depression in Older Adults Examined

The rear view of a man’s feet and legs as he walks away from the camera, mowing the grass
Researchers suggest that their findings in an Irish study have global indications for recognizing connections between late-life conditions and their impact on functioning, particularly the connection between gait speed and incident depression.

Older adults with significantly slower gait speed and shorter step length are more likely to have incident depression, according to a longitudinal study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Researchers analyzed higher-level gait disorders to assess a potential relationship between gait patterns and an increased risk of incident depression. This 4-year study embedded within The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging assessed spatiotemporal gait parameters at baseline and incident depression at follow-up. Depressive symptoms were evaluated using the 20-item Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and the 8-item Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and gait analysis was completed using the GAITRite system. Additional demographic and biological data were collected.

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Of the 3615 participants over the age of 50 who completed this study, 10% met criteria for incident depression at the follow-up appointment. Participants with incident depression were more likely to be women (P =.004), to have only completed primary education (P <.001), and to have a body mass index ≥30.0 kg/m2 (P =.003). Under normal and manual task conditions, participants with incident depression had significantly slower gait speed (normal walking P =.003; manual task P =.002) and shorter step length (normal walking P <.001; manual task P <.001). Fully adjusted logistic regression models indicate that those in the slowest tertile for both gait speed (P <.001) and gait length (P <.05) had a significantly higher risk for incident depression. Educational attainment, baseline sub-threshold depressive symptoms, and benzodiazepine use were also significantly associated with incident depression.

Limitations of this study include only using a questionnaire to assess depression and not a clinical diagnosis and using self-reported clinical diagnosis for cardiovascular disease, which could lead to response biases.

The researchers concluded that “this study demonstrates that reduced step length and slower gait speed are independent predictors of incident depression” for adults over the age of 50 years old.


Briggs R, Carey D, Claffey P, et al. Do differences in spatiotemporal gait parameters predict the risk of developing depression in later life? [published online February 5, 2019]. J Am Geriatr Soc. doi: 10.1111/jgs.15783