People with Lewy body dementia and Alzheimer’s disease do not walk the same way. In fact, their unique walking patterns may help clinicians differentiate between the two conditions and improve disease-specific care, say researchers.

Researchers brought 110 participants to a specialized gait lab at Newcastle University, U.K., for a simple walking test along a mat lined with thousands of sensors. The mat captured and relayed their footfalls as data.

Participants with Lewy body dementia varied their step time and length, and moved asymmetrically, meaning their left and right footsteps looked different from each other. People with Alzheimer’s disease, in contrast, rarely changed their walking patterns.

The findings could be a significant step toward using gait as a marker of dementia, said Ríona McArdle, Ph.D. Currently, diagnosis is made by identifying specific symptoms, and when needed, a brain scan.

“[A] more accurate diagnosis means that we know that people are getting the right treatment, care and management for the dementia they have,” McArdle said.

People with Lewy body dementia, for instance, are at an increased risk of falls due to their inconsistent gait. And according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, fewer therapeutic medications can be used safely in these residents, when compared to people with Alzheimer’s. They also have greater instability in blood pressure and heart rate, and are subject to hallucinations earlier in the disease’s progression. The two conditions often overlap, however.

The gait study was funded by the Alzheimer’s Foundation, and results were published in the organization’s journal, Alzheimer’s & Dementia.