New research suggests that how a person walks might predict whether he will develop Alzheimer's disease, according to CBS News.
Four studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference tied walking ability to memory and cognitive decline, and the findings may one day help doctors diagnose the disease earlier, researchers said.
In a press release, the first study author Dr. Stephanie A. Bridenbaugh, a researcher at the Basel Mobility Center in Switzerland said, “Mobility impairments are often associated with dementia, and some gait changes may even appear before cognitive decline can be detected by traditional testing methods. When problems emerge, this may provide early detection of fall risk and the earliest stages of cognitive impairment in older adults. An analysis of a patient's gait won't replace a comprehensive neurological exam for diagnosing Alzheimer's, but it may be a helpful tool for detecting disease progression.”
In the second study, the researchers found slower walkers with a lower cadence and less of a stride length were more likely to have problems in cognitive and memory functions, compared to faster walking counterparts.
The third study found how a person walks in the home may predict cognitive decline. The researchers found slower walking speeds in the home were linked with smaller brain size, and more associated with less volume in the hippocampus. Researchers believe that how a person walks at home may be a better indicator of cognitive problems.
The third study author Dr. Lisa Silbert, a researcher at Oregon Health & Science University at Portland said, "Walking speed taken at a single time point may over-estimate walking abilities in the elderly. Our data suggests that continuous in-home monitoring may provide a more accurate reflection of walking speed and may be more sensitive at detecting motor changes associated with future cognitive decline."
The last of the studies researchers from Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Sendai, Japan, measured the connection between gait and cognition. The study showed that EWQ gait speed was drastically decreased as a person's symptoms of dementia increased.
The study author Kenichi Meguro of Tohoku University said. "Gait should no longer be considered a simple, automatic, motor activity that is independent of cognition. They are linked."
Dr. William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer for the Alzheimer's Association, summarized the research saying, "With an aging baby boomer generation advancing into greater risk for Alzheimer's and dementia, it is important for physicians to be aware of the associations between gait and mental function. These studies suggest that observing and measuring gait changes could be a valuable tool for signaling the need for further cognitive evaluation."