Decreased walking speed in old age can be a sign of dementia, the study shows, as a part of the brain that controls the pace begins to shrink
- American and Australian scientists tracked 17,000 over the age of 65 for seven years
- They found that people who walked five percent slower per year and had cognitive decline had the greatest risk of developing dementia.
- Researchers said that walking exams should be included in tests for dementia
- About five million Americans have the debilitating disease, estimates suggest
Slowing down in old age can be a warning sign of dementia, a major study has suggested.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota and Monash University, Australia, monitored people over the age of 75 and found that those who lost 0.05 meters per second from their pace each year and had signs of mental decline were most at risk.
The international team said this was likely because as the brain falls into the disabling state, it also affects the areas involved in walking.
About five million Americans have dementia, estimates suggest that there is no cure for the conditions, only treatments that can relieve the symptoms.
The graph above shows the incidence of dementia (y-axis) since the study started by four groups. These are doubles (dark blue line), which had a slower gait and cognition, people with cognitive decline (orange), people with only a slower gait (blue line) and people with none of the conditions (green line)
Researchers say walking about five percent slower a year in old age can be a warning sign of dementia (stock photo)
How can walking speed indicate dementia risk?
A growing body of research suggests that how fast a person walks later in life may indicate if they have dementia.
In the latest paper – from American and Australian scientists – experts found that a drop in walking speed of 0.05 m / s or more per year combined with cognitive decline was a warning sign of dementia.
Researchers say the connection is likely because areas that fall into dementia are also involved in walking.
This means that as they become injured due to the disease, the patients also experience difficulty walking.
About five million Americans have dementia, estimates suggest.
The study – published Tuesday in the JAMA Network Open – tracked a group of over 15,000 elderly people for nearly a decade.
In the newspaper, the cognition and walking speed of 17,000 elderly people were tracked for seven years.
Participants were American and Australian, mostly women and with white backgrounds.
Researchers measured cognition every 24 months with tests for memory decline, treatment rate, and verbal fluency.
The walking speed was checked twice every two years by measuring the participants’ pace when walking 10 feet.
People who were ‘double deniers’ – had slower walks per year and declining cognition – were most likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
A decrease in walking speed was defined as a loss of 0.05 meters per second or more from the normal pace – of about 1.2 to 1.4 – each year.
This group saw about 178 cases detected, or 11.3 percent of their total number of participants.
By comparison, those who showed no decline in cognition or gait, the pace at which someone walks, were least likely to have the disease with only 25 participants diagnosed (0.3 percent).
The researchers also looked at participants who had declines in just walking speed and just cognition.
This showed that the former had a similar risk of the disease as those without relapse (27 cases or one percent). In the latter group, 158 cases were diagnosed, corresponding to 3.9 percent of the group.
The researchers analyzed the data last year, with the tests down between 2010 and 2017.
Dr. Taya Collyer, a biostatician from Monash University who led the study, and others said: ‘It is possible that gait goals are declining in [brain] domains that are necessary (in addition to memory loss) for dementia diagnosis.
‘Connection between [brain] domains, such as processing speed and verbal fluency, have been successfully explained by crossovers in the underlying networks or pathology. ‘
The team also said their findings underscored the need to include gait testing when trying to diagnose a patient with dementia.
They said: ‘These results highlight the importance of gait in the risk assessment of dementia.
“They suggest that a double decrease in walking speed and memory goals may be the best combination to assess future decline.”