Slower Walking Speeds May Flag Dementia Risk: Study

Slower Walking Speeds May Flag Dementia Risk: Study


There is currently no cure for dementia, which includes its most common form, Alzheimer’s disease. But there are indicators that may give an early warning that dementia may be down the road.

One of those signals may be walking speed. Researchers have learned that older adults who walk slower than normal, even when they have no signs of dementia, have a greater risk of developing it than those who walk faster.

U.K. researchers attempted to learn more about how changes in walking speed are linked to changes in the ability to think and make decisions, and dementia.

They examined information collected from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, which included adults aged 60. They assessed the walking speed of almost 4,000 participants on two occasions in 2002-2003 and in 2004-2005. Next, they calculated whether or not they developed dementia during the subsequent years from 2006-2015. Then, they compared the people who had developed dementia with those who had not.

Researchers discovered that those with a slower walking speed had a greater risk of developing dementia. In addition, people who experienced a faster decline in walking speed over a two-year period were also at higher risk for dementia. People who had a poorer ability to think and make decisions when they entered the study, and those whose cognitive (thinking) abilities declined more quickly during the study, were also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers concluded that older adults with slower walking speeds, and those who experienced a greater decline in their walking speed over time, were at increased risk for dementia.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Numerous studies have found that walking itself can reduce the risk of dementia and help keep aging seniors healthy. One study at Rush University Medical Center found that older adults who maintain a high level of ordinary physical activity, such as house cleaning and walking the dog, have more gray matter in their brains than those who are less active. “More gray matter is associated with better cognitive function, while decreases in gray matter are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias,” said study leader Shannon Halloway of Rush University Medical Center.

A study from the University of Maryland School of Public Health found that exercise, including walking, may be the best medicine to not only prevent Alzheimer’s, but also to improve the mental function of those already suffering from the memory-robbing disease. Researchers found that activity improved memory performance and enhanced neural efficiency, as measured by functional neuroimaging (fMRI). “No study has shown that a drug can do what we showed is possible with exercise,” said study leader Dr. J. Carson Smith.

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