Can How Your Walk Predict Alzheimer’s?

By Amir Khan on July 15, 2012 10:47 PM EDT

Brain
The way you walk could be a hint as to whether you will develop dementia or Alzheimer's disease, (Photo: REUTERS)

The way you walk could be a hint as to whether you will develop dementia or Alzheimer's disease, according to three new studies, presented at the annual meeting of the Alzheimer's Association in Vancouver. Researchers found that changes in walking patterns could be an early warning that cognitive decline is underway.

In one four-year study, researchers followed more than 1,200 elderly patients who went to a memory clinic and compared their walking speed to that of a mentally healthy person. They found that a slowing of walking pace and a change in gait was linked to mental decline, whether it was mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer's disease.

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"Those with Alzheimer's dementia walked slower than those with MCI, who in turn walked slower than those who were cognitively healthy," Dr. Stephanie Bridenbaugh, study author and researcher with the Basel Mobility Center, told HealthDay.

A second study, which looked at 1,300 patients, found that a decline in mental skills, including memory and executive function loss, were linked to a slowed pace and a change in gait.

"These results support a possible role of gait changes as an early predictor of cognitive impairment," Dr. Rodolfo Savica, a researcher with the Mayo Clinic, said in a statement.

Kenichi Meguro, researcher of the third study and researcher with the Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Sendai, had similar findings, and told HealthDay that gait velocity was significantly diminished in people with Alzheimer's, as compared to people with MCI's and mentally healthy people.

"Gait should no longer be considered a simple, automatic motor activity that is independent of cognition," he said. "They are linked."

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the United States, affecting more than 5 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of people who suffer from the disease is expected to double every 20 years as population increases and

people live longer

Symptoms of Alzheimer's include memory loss, confusion, difficulty completing familiar tasks, decreased judgment and problems speaking or writing.

Healthcare costs related to Alzheimer's disease totaled almost $8 billion in 2010, according to theAlzheimer's Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Alzheimer's patients in the federal and state governments.

There is as yet no cure or successful treatment for Alzheimer's disease. The Obama administration set a goal of 2025 to find an effective treatment and pledged to spend an additional $50 million on dementia research on top of the $450 million the government spends annually until a treatment is found.

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