How fast multiple sclerosis patients complete a 25-foot walk can provide insight into the disease’s impact on their lives, according to a new study led by a University of Virginia School of Medicine neurologist.
“One of the most important things we found was that this single test could provide so much information about a patient’s experience in the real world,” said Dr. Myla Goldman, director of U.Va.’s James Q. Miller Multiple Sclerosis Clinic.
Multiple sclerosis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy nerves, causing a host of disabling symptoms. One of the most common and challenging symptoms for MS patients is difficulty walking, Goldman said.
A timed 25-foot walk is considered one of the better measures for determining how much a patient’s MS has progressed, but previous research had not yet connected performance on the walk to how MS affected patients on a day-to-day basis.
Goldman and her research team gave the walking test to 159 MS patients and had them fill out surveys that measured quality-of-life issues such as their ability to work, depression level, ability to walk and their disability. The preliminary quality-of-life benchmarks were then confirmed in a second study of 95 different MS patients.
The benchmarks identified through the study divided MS patients into three groups: patients who completed the walk in less than six seconds, patients who completed the walk between six and eight seconds and patients who took more than eight seconds to finish the walk.
The study found that patients who take between six and eight seconds to complete the walk are significantly more likely to:
- Be unemployed
- Change their job due to the effects of MS
- Need a cane while walking
- Need help performing everyday tasks such as housework and cooking meals
MS patients who took more than eight seconds to complete the walk are significantly more likely to:
- Be divorced
- Receive Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid or Medicare
- Need a walker while walking
- Be unable to perform everyday tasks such as housework and cooking meals
“This information gives us a better understanding of how patients are doing now and what difficulties they may begin to experience in the future,” Goldman said.
Biogen and the ziMS Foundation – the latter founded by former U.Va. baseball standout Ryan Zimmerman, now a member of the Washington Nationals – provided funding for the study.