A new study shows that changes in walking speed later in life may signal the early stages of dementia.
For the research, scientists installed infrared sensors in the homes of 93 people age 70 or older who lived alone, then monitored their walking speed unobtrusively over three years.
Of the study participants, 54 had no cognitive impairment, 31 had non-memory related mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and eight had memory-related MCI, according to study author Dr. Hiroko Dodge with Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
At the outset of the study, the participants were given memory and thinking tests and were placed in groups of slow, moderate or fast walkers based on their average weekly walking speed and how much their walking speed fluctuated at home.
The study found that people with non-memory-related MCI were nine times more likely to be slow walkers than moderate or fast walkers. They also found that the amount of the fluctuation in walking speed was associated with MCI.
“By using this new monitoring method, we were able to get a better idea of how even subtle changes in walking speed may correlate with the development of MCI,” Dodge reported.
He said that further studies need to be done with larger groups of people to determine whether walking speed and its fluctuations could be a predictor of future memory and thinking problems in the elderly.
“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,” he said.
“Our in-home monitoring approach has a lot of potential to be used for sustaining independence of the elderly.”
The study was published in Neurology.