Walking Speed: The Latest Alzheimer’s Indicator?

August 12, 2014
Alzheimer's Disease Walking Test

Researchers Believe Walking Speed Reveals Alzheimer’s Disease Development

As the (very) long-term process of studying, understanding, and ultimately eliminating Alzheimer’s disease continues, another effort is underway, one with more immediate benefits. This is the quest to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible, allowing us to use what medications we have available to minimize its effects as long as we can. Several procedures hold out great promise in this area, such as analysis of certain proteins present in the brain and, more recently, using eye scans to measure response speed. These advanced methods, however, are of little use to the millions of people who don’t have access to expensive technologies. Now researchers believe they have identified a simple indicator that provides important clues about early onset Alzheimer’s disease: slow walking speed.

Walking is Hard!

Using your feet to move your body to another room is something you barely think about as you do it. That’s not because it is a simple process, however! Your body is surprisingly heavy, and precise balance is needed to keep it steady. Nearly all your body’s muscles are in motion as your legs move you forward, your arms adjust to shift your weight, and your core tightens and relaxes with each step. At the same time, your brain is considering your route, the floor’s texture and condition, and any obstacles that stand in your way. As you can see, any loss of motor skill, thinking speed, or balance control would have a significant effect on walking ability.

Measuring and Qualifying Walking Speed

Measuring walking speed in your senior loved one could be an important step along the path of pinpointing Alzheimer’s or dementia development: the recent study indicates that a senior who has trouble with memory and has an unusually slow gait is highly likely to suffer from early dementia. Of course, there are other factors to consider as well. A previous injury can make it difficult to walk at a normal pace, as can rheumatism, arthritis, or other chronic illnesses. But as medical experts narrow the focus of a walking speed test, it could become one of the most important low-cost, low-tech ways to keep a sharp eye out for the earliest signs of cognitive decline.

Staying on Top of Mental and Physical Exercise Needs

It’s unhealthy for an elderly person to sit at home all day with very little physical activity or human interaction! Instead, companionship and movement throughout the day is key for keeping both the mind and the body active and healthy. A caregiver is the perfect solution for busy families who are concerned for their senior’s ongoing health but are unable to spend large amounts of time walking, gardening, playing mentally stimulating games, and simply talking with him or her.

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Photo by North Charleston

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