Declines in Average Walking Speed Linked to Increased Risk for Dementia

Dementia is sometimes a difficult condition for physicians to diagnose until the condition’s symptoms become more severe. To determine a patient’s risk of developing dementia, physicians utilize a dementia risk screening assessment that examines a variety of factors. According to a new study published in JAMA Network, though, a decline in average walking speed may be an important indicator of dementia risk.

What is Dementia?

There are numerous conditions that fall under the category of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is one such condition categorized as dementia and is both one of the most common types of dementia as well as one of the most serious. Along with Alzheimer’s disease, other common types of dementia include vascular dementia, ley body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia.

5.8 million adults in the United States suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia according to the CDC. Of this number, 5.6 million are 65 years or older while 200,000 people under the age of 65 suffer from early-onset dementia.

Common dementia symptoms include:

  • Memory loss
  • Aphasia (difficulty communicating/finding words)
  • Reduced coordination and motor functions
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Reduced visual and spatial abilities
  • Difficulty handling complex tasks
  • Personality changes
  • Anxiety
  • Inappropriate behavior

Research Shows a Link Between Walking Speed and Dementia Risk

Unlike most conditions, there are no lab tests that can diagnose dementia. Instead, physicians must rely on a screening process that considers the patient’s symptoms and medical history in order to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Finding markers that predict dementia risk, therefore, is something that offers a lot of value to dementia patients and the physicians treating them. To help with this cause, researchers examined data from 19,114 US and Australian patients aged 65 years and older. The results of this research found a direct link between a decline in average walking speed and an increased risk of developing dementia.

The study’s conclusion stated, “Of domains examined, the combination of decline in gait speed with memory had the strongest association with dementia risk. These findings support the inclusion of gait speed in dementia risk screening assessments.”

Keep in mind that this research does not mean that walking slower causes dementia or that walking more often or faster could decrease your dementia risk. Instead, the purpose of the study was to reveal early indicators of dementia that can help physicians determine a patient’s dementia risk.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Developing Dementia

Preventing dementia isn’t as simple as preventing many conditions since the most impactful dementia risk factors – age, genetics, and level of education – are impossible to control. With that said, though, diet and lifestyle can be dementia risk factors as well, meaning that there are measures that you can take to reduce your dementia risk.

Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level, and limiting your alcohol consumption are all things that may be able to reduce your risk of developing dementia.

Keeping your mind sharp and active is another proven way to help reduce your dementia risk. Playing games such as crossword puzzles or any other game that challenges the mind, reading, and writing are all examples of activities that you can do throughout your life to keep your mental faculties sharp. While it may be surprising that such simple activities could help stave off such a serious disease, research shows that keeping your brain active can in fact be highly effective at delaying and preventing the onset of dementia. In fact, a study published in the scientific journal Neurology found that keeping your brain sharp with regular activities such as these may be able to delay the onset of dementia by up to five years.

Dementia is difficult to detect, difficult to prevent, and difficult to treat. Eating a healthy diet and exercising both your mind and body, though, is certainly a great way to reduce your dementia risk.

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