How often during a walk do we monitor how fast we are moving? For many of us, we rarely ever consider our walking speed. Well, a study published in May 2022 is encouraging older adults to take a closer look at their walking speed, because it may be a telling sign of a risk factor for dementia. The study examined the walking speeds of thousands of older adults. Researchers found that those who walk slower, while simultaneously displaying signs of declining mental processing, were more likely to develop dementia. They are urging older adults and clinicians to consider the importance of gait in dementia risk assessment.
In this randomized clinical trial, there were 16,855 older adults (65 and better) in Australia and the United States who participated. The study was done across 7 years, from 2010 to 2017. Researchers measured gait speed at 0, 2, 4, and 6 years, as well as cognitive measures and verbal fluency at those same time periods. In the study there were four groups: dual decline in gait and cognition; gait decline only; cognitive decline only; and non-decliners. Researchers defined cognitive decline as lowest tertile of annual change on the cognitive measures, whereas gait decline was defined as a speed decline of 0.05 miles/second or greater per year across the study. The results indicated that of the domains examined, it was the combination of decline in cognition and gait that had the strongest association with dementia. Researchers believe this is evidence that gait speed is an important factor to consider in dementia risk screening assessments.
The researchers of this study believe their findings complement other recent studies that have linked gait speed and dementia diagnosis, and they reiterate the importance of using the combination of declining gait and cognitive abilities as an accurate assessment of future dementia risk. The researchers believe that this combination of measurements could be more sensitive to the detection of a future dementia diagnosis, and something that could be feasible for doctors to implement during patient visits.
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Collyer, T.A., Murray, A.M., Woods, R.L., et al. (2022). Association of Dual Decline in Cognition and Gait Speed With Risk of Dementia in Older Adults. JAMA Netw Open, 5(5): e2214647. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.14647.