Slow-Walking Older Adults May be at Greater Risk for Dementia

A new U.K. study finds that older adults with slower walking speeds, as well as those who experience a greater decline in walking speed over time, are at an increased risk for developing dementia. The link between walking speed and dementia appears to be independent of any changes in cognition.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

As of 2015, nearly 47 million people worldwide were impacted by dementia, a memory problem significant enough to impact one’s ability to carry out usual daily tasks. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Since there is currently no cure for dementia, it is very important to uncover any potential risk factors that may lead to developing the condition. One area of interest to researchers is whether or not physical function is associated with the onset of dementia, particularly because declines in physical and cognitive functioning are indicators of aging. In addition, gait disorders, which increase with age, have been linked to dementia onset.

In the study, the researchers investigated the associations between changes in walking speed, changes in the ability to think and make decisions, and the development of dementia.

They looked at 2002-2015 data collected from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. The study included adults aged 60 and older who lived in England. They assessed participants’ walking speed on two occasions in 2002-2003 and in 2004-2005, and whether or not the participants developed dementia after the tests from 2006-2015. Then, they compared the people who had developed dementia with those who had not.

The research team found that of the nearly 4,000 older adults involved in the study, those with a slower walking speed had a greater risk of developing dementia. In addition, those who experienced a faster decline in walking speed over a two-year period were also at higher risk for dementia.

Participants who had a poorer ability to think and make decisions when they entered the study — and those whose cognitive (thinking) abilities declined more quickly during the study — were also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers conclude that older adults with slower walking speeds, and those who experienced a greater decline in their walking speed over time, are at an increased risk for dementia. However, the researchers note that the changes in walking speed and changes in an older adult’s ability to think and make decisions do not necessarily work together to affect the risk of developing dementia.

Source: American Geriatrics Society