Worldwide, dementia affects roughly 50 million people. In America, an estimated 5.4 million adults are living with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. We don’t yet have a cure for this progressive brain disease, so the key is detecting dementia early. One risk factor researchers have determined might be an indicator of dementia risk is walking speed, according to a new study.
In a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers looked at data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), focusing on adults in England who were 60 years old and older between 2002 and 2015. Participants had their walking speeds recorded twice: between 2002 and 2003 and between 2003 to 2004. Researchers then looked at whether participants developed dementia between 2006 and 2015.
What they found was that of the roughly 4,000 participants in the study, older adults with slower walking speeds had a greater risk of developing dementia. People whose walking speeds greatly declined over two years were also at a higher risk of developing dementia. Additionally, those who entered the study with lower thinking and decision-making capabilities — as well as those whose cognitive abilities rapidly declined during the study — were more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
In their conclusion, researchers pointed out that changes in walking speed or cognition didn’t necessarily work together directly to cause an increased risk of dementia. In other words, walking speed changes and/or changes in cognitive abilities weren’t causing dementia per se, but might be the manifestations of other changes occurring in the body. Further study is needed to understand exactly how these mechanisms work together to affect a person’s likelihood of developing dementia and dementia-related diseases.
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