Could The Way You Walk 'Predict' Your Risk Of Dementia?

The Huffington Post UK   First Posted: 16/02/2012 17:47 Updated: 17/02/2012 19:28

How fast you walk and the strength of your hand grip could shed light on your odds of developing dementia later in life, new research has found.

American researchers from Boston Medical Centre discovered a new link between slow walking speed and poor mental health in the future.

Researchers came to their conclusion after conducting a series of tests on 2,400 men and women aged around 62, whose results were measured over 11 years.

The participants underwent tests on walking speed, hand grip strength and cognitive mental function.

After studying brain scans taken throughout the tests, scientists discovered that 34 people developed dementia over the 11-year period and 70 of them had a stroke.

Researchers found that those with a slower walking pace were 1.5 times more likely to develop dementia and those with a strong hand grip had a 42% lower risk of having a stroke over the age of 65.

"These are basic office tests which can provide insight into risk of dementia and stroke and can be easily performed by a neurologist or general practitioner," Dr Erica Camargo from the study, said in a statement.

"While fraility and lower physical performance in elderly people have been associated with an increased risk of dementia, we weren’t sure until now, how it impacted people of middle age."

However, despite the findings being a positive step towards spotting early signs of dementia, the results are yet to be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal and the researchers recognise that there is still more research to be done.

"Further research is needed to understand why this is happening and whether preclinical disease could cause slow walking and decreased strength."

This isn’t the first time scientists have found a link between slow walking and poor health. In 2009, a team of researchers discovered a strong association between the speed of someone’s walk and their chances of developing heart disease.

Another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, discovered a link between fast walking in elderly people and living a longer life.

Dr Marie Janson, Director of Development at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told The Huffington Post: "Although this study has yet to be published in full, it does raise some important questions about whether physical problems, such as difficulty walking, could precede other symptoms associated with dementia.

"It's not clear whether the people in this study had other health problems that may have affected their walking speed, and which could also raise the risk of dementia – however further study could shed new insight into how walking speed and dementia may be linked.

"Currently 820,000 people are affected by dementia in the UK, and as our population ages that number is increasing. We still need a better understanding of the causes of dementia if we are to find effective ways to treat and prevent the condition, and that means we must invest in research."

Adding to this, Dr. Anne Corbett from the Alzheimer’s Society, said in a statement: "This large study adds to existing evidence that people with slower walking speed could be at a higher risk of dementia later in life.

"But before people take stock in the strength of a handshake or the speed you cross the road, more research is needed to understand why and what other factors are involved.

"The good news is that there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of developing dementia. We recommend you eat a healthy balanced diet, don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight, take regular exercise; and get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly."

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  • Lifestyle Changes To Help Prevent Dementia

  • Drink Decaffeinated Coffee

    A study at Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that <a href="" target="_hplink">decaffeinated coffee improves the brain's energy metabolism - linked to cognitive decline</a> - in those with Type 2 diabetes. "This is the first evidence showing the potential benefits of decaffeinated coffee preparations for both preventing and treating cognitive decline caused by type 2 diabetes, ageing, and/ or neurodegenerative disorders," said lead researcher, Dr Giulio Maria Pasinett.

  • Play Brain-Teasing Games

    Everyday <a href="" target="_hplink">games, puzzles and tasks were able to postpone decline in cognitive function and the ability to carry out everyday tasks, in dementia patients, for at least a year</a>, according to research from the University of Erlangen in Germany, published in the journals BMC Medicine.

  • Eat Less

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  • Eat Fish

    Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre and School of Medicine found that <a href="" target="_hplink">people who ate baked or grilled fish regularly reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer's</a>. Reseracher Cyrus Raji said: "The results showed that people who consumed baked or broiled (grilled) fish at least one time per week had better preservation of grey matter volume on MRI in brain areas at risk for Alzheimer's disease."

  • Play The Wii Fit

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Working out using virtual games such as the Wii Fit could slow cognitive decline in the over 50s</a>, researchers from Union College in the US found. Participants aged between 58 and 99 were given a 3D exercise game to play. Compared to the control group who were asked to use a regular exercise bike, the 'cybercycle' group had a 23% decrease in advancement of mild cognitive impairment and showed improved 'executive function'.

  • Do The Seven-Step Plan

    A study in The Lancet Neurology suggest that <a href="" target="_hplink">3m cases of Alzheimer's across the world could be prevented in seven simple ways</a>. The report recommends quitting smoking, increasing physical activity, controlling your blood pressure and diabetes risk factors as well as managing depression and obesity to help combat the disease.