Treadmills help babies with Down Syndrome

November 05, 2001

Treadmills help babies with Down Syndrome learn to walk faster and better, according to kinesiology researchers to be published in the journal Pediatrics.

ANN ARBOR---Babies with Down Syndrome can learn to walk earlier and better through regular exercise on a slow treadmill, according to research headed by Dale Ulrich, director of the Center for Motor Behavior in Down Syndrome at the University of Michigan Division of Kinesiology.

The research is to be published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics (http://www.pediatrics.org/), the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Ulrich said practicing with a parent eight minutes a day, five days a week, on a slow treadmill resulted in children beginning to walk three and a half months sooner than those with Down Syndrome who did not receive the treadmill exercise therapy.

Typically, babies with Down Syndrome walk about one year later than their normally developing peers. This delay affects not only a child's independence but also other developmental milestones.

Once a child can move on his own, Ulrich explained, he can begin to learn about his environment. If he remains stationary, he gets less input and the gap between his motor development and that of his peers grows. Also, once a child begins walking, there is a reduction in stress felt by parents, particularly the mother, Ulrich added.

Treadmill practice helps children develop leg strength and postural control, both of which are needed to walk, Ulrich said. It also demonstrates the necessary alternating leg motions used when they will eventually walk on their own.

Ulrich said he hopes the study will encourage pediatricians and parents to work with children with Down Syndrome to learn to walk. Many care-givers are reluctant to encourage walking skills until a child masters crawling, but in a child with Down Syndrome, he believes it is important to work on walking as early as possible.

In addition, children with Down Syndrome tend to be less physically active and have slower metabolic rates, meaning they will likely enter school carrying excess body weight. Improving walking skills might help counter that problem, Ulrich said.

Researchers involved in this study were Ulrich, associate professor of kinesiology; Beverly Ulrich, professor of kinesiology and dean of the division; Rosa M. Angulo-Kinzler, assistant professor of kinesiology; and Joonkoo Yun, a kinesiology graduate student at the time of the work. The work was supported by grants from the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research to Dale and Beverly Ulrich for $370,000, and from the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation to Dale Ulrich for $88,000.

Dale Ulrich, Angulo-Kinzler and Rita Ayyangar, research fellow with physical medicine and rehabilitation at U-M, also recently received a four-year, $670,000 grant from the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services to improve the treadmill procedures. The goal is to have a more dramatic effect on the age when Down Syndrome children begin walking and on improving their walking gait.

The new grant will allow Ulrich and Angulo-Kinzler to extend their treadmill work to infants with cerebral palsy. They are optimistic that the results could provide pediatricians with information needed to make an earlier diagnosis and to begin treatment.
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For more information on the Center for Motor Behavior in Down Syndrome, visit http://www.umich.edu/%7Ecmbds/ To learn about the U-M Division of Kinesiology: http://www.umich.edu/~divkines/kinweb/

For information about Down Syndrome, visit the National Down Syndrome Society Web site: http://www.ndss.org

U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/

National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/NIDRR/

March of Dimes: http://www.modimes.org/home.htm

EDITORS: Video and still photos of children using the miniature treadmills are available, with parent release forms already signed.

University of Michigan

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