Walking Speed as a Predictor of Dementia

Published 12:14 am Tuesday, September 23, 2014

For over 15-years we’ve been hearing that there are approximately 5.2 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, and we keep looking for answers to predict, treat and cure the disease.

I recently read some new research indicating there’s another tool besides physician assessments to predict dementia, and this time it’s not some expensive PET scan or even a blood test; it has to do with the speed at which we walk. A new study in the journal Neurology suggests that testing walking speeds when combined with complaints about memory problems could be an early indicator of dementia.

At the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center in New York, NY, researchers have revealed a potential new test that could diagnose pre-dementia based on a correlation in older people between a slow walking gait or speed, and abnormal cognitive test results. Dr. Joe Verghese, a professor at Albert Einstein developed a test that uses gait speed –meaning how fast you walk – and the patient’s stated concerns about his failing memory to diagnose what is known as motoric cognitive risk syndrome or MCR, a condition that he believes is an early sign of dementia.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

His team analyzed 22 different previous studies done over a decade ago from 17 countries that involved more than 26,000 people over the age of 60 who were both dementia and disability free. The results showed that almost 10% of the participants had what is considered to be an abnormally slow walking gait, which is defined as less than 1-meter per second. In a 12-year follow-up of 4800 those subjects, they discovered that patients with the defined slow walking speed were about twice as likely to develop dementia as those with normal gaits.

Gait problems are not limited to dementia and such testing can also lead to the identification of other health issues. The good news is that some lifestyle changes may alter the potential outcome, and it should be no surprise that those changes are in doing things that promote heart and brain health with good diets and exercise combined with activities that challenge the brain – and that doesn’t mean watching Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy on TV, it involves getting off the couch and exercising.

I’m not sure everyone would like to be tested for a future that could include dementia, and that’s a possible negative. But early memory issues combined with a slowed gait can also allow people to make changes to their lifestyle and get a huge head start on taking the steps necessary to plan for the possibility of having to deal with such a disastrous diagnosis and having no lead time to prepare.

Ron Kauffman is a Consultant and Expert on Issues of Aging, Medicare and Obamacare. His consulting practice serves clients in Henderson, Polk and Brevard Counties. He is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. His podcasts can be heard weekly at www.seniorlifestyles.net. Contact him at 828-696-9799 or by email at: drron561@gmail.com.