Dementia symptoms: How fast do you walk? The ‘early’ sign pointing to cognitive decline

Steve Thompson recalls signs of his early-onset dementia

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Previously, smaller-scale research, looking at elderly subjects, found that a slower gait may be an “early” sign of cognitive decline. The journal Neurology explained that this might be down to the right hippocampus shrinking as this part of your brain is associated with memory.

Now, a large new study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, has suggested that people who walk about five percent slower or more each year were more likely to develop dementia.

The research also noted that the subjects who went on to develop the brain condition also exhibited signs of slower mental processing.

Looking at nearly 17,000 adults, the study focused on people over the age of 65.

Corresponding author Taya Collyer said: “These results highlight the importance of gait in dementia risk assessment.”

The research followed both Australians and Americans for seven years.

Every other year, the participants were instructed to take cognitive tests.

These assessments measured overall cognitive decline, memory, processing speed and verbal fluency.

On top of that, the subjects were also asked to walk three metres or around 10 feet twice every other year.

These results were then averaged to get a person’s typical gait.

The research revealed that the highest risk of dementia was among “dual decliners”.

These subjects were defined as people who walked more slowly but also showed other signs of cognitive decline.

Dr Joe Verghese wrote in an accompanying editorial: “Furthermore, dual decliners had a higher risk of dementia than those with either gait or cognitive decline alone.”

These new findings are further backed by a meta-analysis from 2020.

Looking at nearly 9,000 American adults, the research shared that a dual association between walking speed and memory decline could predict dementia in later life.

Apart from walking speed, the Alzheimer’s Society reports that walking about could also point to the brain condition.

The charity explains: “[Dementia patients] may walk repeatedly around the house or leave the house at any time of day or night.”

However, these aren’t the only symptoms linked to dementia.

According to the NHS, other early warning signs include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks (getting confused over the correct change when shopping)
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes.

The NHS stresses the importance of speaking to a GP “sooner rather than later” if you experience dementia symptoms.

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