Can Your Walking Speed Really Be An Indicator Of Dementia?

June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer's Association reports that 50 million people worldwide live with dementia, with the number estimated to increase to 76 million by 2030. Although there is no cure for dementia, researchers are looking for tools to predict dementia and identify various risk factors for prevention and treatment.

A 2019 study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that changes in a person's gait were associated with a decline in cognitive processing. To further the results of this study, a May 2022 study in the JAMA Network Open investigated more than 16,000 people over 65 in the United States and Australia. The researchers measured each participant over seven years for changes in their stride and cognitive ability. Those participants who had declines in their memory and walking speed were at a higher risk for dementia than those who had declined only in memory or walking speed. The researchers concluded that declines in a person's memory and gait were good indicators of future dementia.

What are other risk factors of dementia?

Although education, nutrition, and changes in lifestyle have affected the incidence of dementia, a 2020 report in The Lancet identified 12 factors that increase the likelihood of the disease. These risk factors are less education, high blood pressure, reduced hearing, smoking, obesity, depression, low physical activity, diabetes, social isolation, alcohol use, brain injury, and air pollution.

If you have one or several of these risk factors, it doesn't mean that you're going to develop dementia in your later years. The Lancet report suggests taking preventative measures early in life to reduce your risk. Although no specific activity will buffer dementia, the report recommends remaining active physically, cognitively, and socially, especially through midlife. However, because physical activity can reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular problems, it can be a strong ally in reducing the likelihood of dementia.

We can also find ways to improve our memory to keep the brain active. Brain exercises such as reading, learning a language, or playing board games can also slow the onset of dementia (per Dementia Australia).