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Walking Speed in the Elderly May be an Early Sign of Alzheimer's Dementia

Posted Jun 12 2012 9:59am


If we can detect dementia at its earliest phases, then we can work to maintain people's independence.

Alzheimer's Reading Room

The research study described below really struck home with me. For more than two years my mother's ability to walk was deteriorating. Not only was she walking slower, she was scrapping her feet on the ground.

Every time I mentioned this people would say, "she is just getting old". Even her doctor of six years said, "she is just getting old". I had a more succinct response, "You're fired".

Why is this research important? Because the sooner mild cognitive impairment or dementia are diagnosed, the better the likely long term outcome.

I have absolutely no doubt, if someone had said to me, get her tested for Alzheimer's or dementia rather than, she is just getting old, Dotty and I would have made it on to the path of joy sooner. And, the long period of burden would have been greatly reduced.

As I meet more and more persons who are deeply forgetful I continue to learn that those who are diagnosed earlier have a better chance to say what they want to say, and to get into a better routine that helps them function and deal with their own brain disease. I said better chance. I wish I had that chance.

In this research study infrared sensors were installed in the ceiling of home to detect movements in hallways. Wow.

Now all we need to do is take this information into personal care doctors so they can be alert and start testing to rule in, or rule out, dementia when problems with walking and balance first happen.

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Keeping pace: Walking speed may signal thinking problems ahead

A new study shows that changes in walking speed in late life may signal the early stages of dementia known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The research is published in the June 12, 2012, print issue of Neurology ®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology .
"In our study, we used a new technique that included installing infrared sensors in the ceilings of homes, a system designed to detect walking movement in hallways," said study author Hiroko Dodge, PhD, with Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "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."
The study involved 93 people age 70 or older who lived alone. Of those, 54 participants had no cognitive impairment, 31 had non-memory related MCI and eight had memory-related MCI. Participants were given memory and thinking tests and had their walking speed monitored at their homes unobtrusively over a three-year period. Participants were placed in groups of slow, moderate or fast 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 and the amount of the fluctuation in walking speed was also associated with MCI.
"Further studies need to be done using larger groups of participants to determine whether walking speed and its fluctuations could be a predictor of future memory and thinking problems in the elderly," said Dodge. "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. Our in-home monitoring approach has a lot of potential to be used for sustaining independence of the elderly.
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The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Intel Corporation .

To learn more about mild cognitive impairment, visit http://www.aan.com/patients.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 25,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.

More Insight and Advice for Caregivers


Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room
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