A turn for the worse: Turning performance in Parkinson’s disease and Essential tremor

Congratulations Dr. Nikolaus McFarland on the publication of “A turn for the worse: Turning performance in Parkinson’s disease and Essential tremor,” which will be published in the December 2019 issue of Clinical Biomechanics.



Turning is an activity of daily living known to elicit falls in older adults and particularly in persons with movement disorders. Specifically, those with Parkinson’s disease have marked impairments in forward walking and turning. Although recent work has identified gait impairment in those with Essential tremor, turning has not been extensively evaluated. As the cerebellum is key in the pathophysiology of Essential tremor, complex tasks like turning, may be impaired for this population. The purpose of this study was to investigate turning behavior and falls in those with Essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease.


15 persons with Essential tremor and 15 persons with Parkinson’s disease performed forward walking and turns on an instrumented walkway. t-tests compared groups and a regression was performed to predict fall frequency.


During turning, those with Essential tremor had lower cadence (p = .042) and took more time (p = .05). No other variables, including forward walking variables, differed between groups. When pooling groups, the significant fall frequency predictor model (p = .003) included decreased forward cadence, increased turning cadence, and female sex. Overall, the model explained 40.7% of the variance.


While forward gait performance was similar between groups, those with Essential tremor had increased turn time, a measure often associated with turning impairment. Together, these results suggest overall gait impairment in Essential tremor is more prevalent than recognized. Walking performance, both turning and forward, and sex were predictive of fall frequency. Therapeutic interventions in these populations should include both forward walking and turns to mitigate fall risk.