Changes in walking speed offer clues about dementia

Posted Jun 19, 2012 by Tim Sandle
A new study suggests that changes in walking speed amongst the elderly population may provide clues about the onset of early stages of dementia, offering hope for a new method for the early detection of illnesses like Alzheimer's.
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A study, examining the onset of dementia, undertaken in the USA by the National Institutes of Health (supported by the technology company Intel) examined the speed and movement of elderly people. For the study, as Medline Plus reports, the scientists used infrared sensors, which were placed in the homes of the subject group.
According to the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), the study looked at 93 people aged 70 or older and used the data collected from the infra-red sensors to assess the speed at which the elderly people moved. Data was collected over several years. In addition to the monitoring, the participants were given memory and thinking tests.
The research findings showed that slow walkers were nine times more likely to be affected by mild cognitive impairment than those with moderate or fast walking speeds. In addition, the study found that fluctuations in walking pace were also associated with mental degeneration. Thus, a slow down in the walking pace may offer a clue about the gradual onset of dementia.
The implications of the research are that in-home monitoring systems could be helpful for monitoring older people.
Dr Hiroko Dodge from the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, is quoted by Health24 as saying, “If we can detect dementia at its earliest phases, then we can work to maintain people's independence, provide treatments and ultimately develop ways to prevent the disease from developing.”
The research findings were published in the journal neurology. The reference is:
H. H. Dodge et al. In-home walking speeds and variability trajectories associated with mild cognitive impairment. Neurology, 2012; 78 (24): 1946 DOI: 10.1212