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Walking speed is a possible early warning sign of dementia

Walking speed is a possible early warning sign of dementia

For years, research has been done on how to detect and treat dementia early. Scientists have now discovered that the risk of dementia is linked to a slower walking speed.

A recently published study suggests that walking speed in older adults can provide information about potential dementia. To this end, the researchers conducted a study of 16,855 people from Australia and the United States, who had an average age of 75 years. Study data were collected between 2010 and 2017.

Dementia can be identified by walking speed

As part of the analysis, the researchers found that a combined or simultaneous decrease in walking speed and cognitive abilities is associated with an increased risk of dementia. The results were published in the specialized journal “Gamma Network”.1 People in whom none of their characteristics or traits deteriorate are less likely to develop dementia.

For this purpose, the scientists collected data as part of the ASPREE (ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Eenerly) study. The subjects were recruited from 2010 to 2014 and anonymous testing was conducted until 2017. The data was then analyzed between October 2020 and November 2021. At the start of the study, it was found that nearly 17,000 people who had been tested had neither dementia, nor cardiovascular disease, nor Physical disabilities and a life expectancy of more than five years.

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These test methods were used

During the seven years, people had to take various tests. Walking speed was measured at the start of the study in the second, fourth, sixth and final years. The subjects tested had to walk a short distance of three meters each in the respective years. The two walking scores were averaged and a walking pattern or speed established.

Cognitive tests were performed at years 1, 3, 5 and at the end of the study. The methods used were:

  • Modified Mini Mental State Test (3MS): A dementia screening test with questions about memory, arithmetic, or orientation. (global awareness)
  • Hopkins Revised Verbal Learning Test (HVLT-R): memory test (memory)
  • Code Number Methods (SDMT): Screening test for neurological dysfunction (processing speed)
  • Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT-F): a test to check fluency. (fluency of speech)

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Two groups are particularly affected

After the data analysis was completed, the subjects were divided into four groups.

  • Group I: simultaneous decrease in walking speed and cognitive performance
  • Group 2: Going backwards only in gait pattern
  • The third group: regression in cognitive performance only
  • Fourth group: no deterioration in properties

Walking regression was defined as a loss of walking speed of more than 0.5 m/s within one year. In order to determine which of these had the greatest risk of developing dementia, a ‘hazard ratio’ was also included. This value shows, among other things, how much higher the mortality rate for one group is compared to another.2 Possible dementia depends not only on walking speed, but also on the specific cognitive decline.

It soon became apparent that the group with deteriorating walking speed and deteriorating memory function (HVLT-R) had a hazard ratio of 24.7. This is followed by the group with worse gait pattern and global cognitive impairment with 22.2. Then come people with poor gait and low speech fluency (4.7). Least affected are people whose walking speed and processing speed are reduced by an average of 4.3.

Scientists have come to the conclusion that people who walk about 5 percent slower a year and simultaneously lose cognitive ability are more likely to develop dementia.