Walking Speed and Dementia
Worldwide, around 55 million people have dementia, which is a memory problem significant enough to affect your ability to carry out your usual tasks. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but other forms exist (including Vascular, Frontotemporal, PPA, etc.). Dementia is predominantly associated with advancing age.
Since there isn’t currently a cure for dementia, it’s important to know about the risk factors that may lead to developing it. Certain factors increase the risk of dementia, including hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and sedentary behavior. For example, researchers have learned that older adults with slower walking speeds seem to have a greater risk of dementia than those with faster walking speeds.
In one study, researchers learned that of the nearly 4,000 older adults they studied, the participants with a slower walking speed had a greater risk of developing dementia. Furthermore, participants who experienced a faster decline in walking speed over a two-year period were also at higher risk for dementia. Participants who had a more challenging time thinking clearly and making decisions when they entered the study were also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
In another study, 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. However, the researchers noted that changes in walking speed and changes in an older adult’s ability to think and make decisions do not necessarily work together to affect the risk of developing dementia.
Overall, recent studies suggest that routine use of gait speed and verbal memory recall tests by clinicians can help to identify older adults at high risk for dementia. Physicians can use this information to give further attention to address other dementia risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and thyroid problems. Future research is going to continue to be needed to identify if these dual decliners could be a target group for preventive or therapeutic interventions.
In the meantime, see your physician if you are concerned about yourself or a loved one. They can conduct a proper medical evaluation to evaluate your concerns. If needed, they may also be able to refer to a neuropsychologist for formal memory testing.