Mom - Why Are You Walking Slow?

Dementia could be predicted by walking speed and variability in the elderly

(RxWiki News) Nobody wants to watch a loved one suffer from dementia. There may be early predictors and warning signs of the onset of dementia, and one of them may surprise you.

A new study suggests that walking speed may predict dementia.

More specifically, those who walk more slowly, and those that vary their walking speed greatly, are more likely to suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a stage of cognitive impairment that can lead to dementia.

"Regularly check up on the mental health of the elderly."

"In our study, we used a new technique that included installing infrared sensors in the ceilings of homes, a system designed to detect walking movement in hallways," said Hiroko Dodge, PhD, of Oregon Health and Science University.

"By using this new monitoring method, we were able to get a better idea of how even subtle changes in walking speed may correlate with the development of MCI."

Participants were part of the Intelligent Systems for Assessing Aging Change (ISAAC) cohort study. There were 93 participants who were all at least 70 years old and live alone. Of those, 54 had no cognitive impairment, 31 had non-memory related MCI, and 8 had memory related MCI.

Over a three year period, the researchers monitored the cognitive abilities of the participants using memory and thinking tests. Additionally, sensors were installed in the homes of participants to measure walking speed.

The participants were grouped into three average walking speeds - slow, medium and fast. The variability in their walking speed was assessed.

The team found that those with non-memory related MCI were nine times more likely to be slow walkers. They were also more likely to have high variability in their walking speed - which generally became slower as the study progressed.

The researchers warn that more research is necessary in order to claim a direct causal relationship between the two.

"Further studies need to be done using larger groups of participants to determine whether walking speed and its fluctuations could be a predictor of future memory and thinking problems in the elderly," said Dodge.

"If we can detect dementia at its earliest phases, then we can work to maintain people's independence, provide treatments and ultimately develop ways to prevent the disease from developing. Our in-home monitoring approach has a lot of potential to be used for sustaining independence of the elderly."

The study was published June 12, 2012 in the journal Neurology and was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Intel Corporation.

Review Date: 
June 13, 2012