Changes in walking speed in late life could indicate early stages of dementia known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a recent study suggests.
Scientists from Oregon Health and Science University made the potentially useful link between walking speed and cognitive decline of 93 elderly participants (aged 70 and older). Of the participants, 54 had no cognitive impairment, 31 had non-memory-related mild cognitive impairment and 8 had memory-related mild cognitive impairment.
All of the participants had their walking speeds monitored using infrared sensors in their homes over three years. They were also given regular memory and thinking tests.
The study, published in American Academy of Neurology, found that those who walked slowly were nine times more likely to develop non-memory-related mild cognitive impairment (MCI) than those were moderate to fast walkers and also more likely to have fluctuation in walking speed over the three years.
“Further researches in a larger group of participants will be needed to determine whether walking speed and its fluctuations could be a predictor of future memory and thinking problems in older people,” said study author Hiroko Dodge of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
“This research is important because it could help detect early stages of dementia and also help in preventing the disease from developing. By using this new monitoring method, we can get a better idea of how even subtle changes in walking speed may correlate with the development of MCI,” Dodge added.
Mild cognitive impairment is an intermediate state between normal cognitive abilities and the development of dementia. People with MCI may not develop dementia, but they are at much higher risk of developing the disorder.