Slowing of walking pace or a more variable stride could indicate a decline in cognitive function, according to new research.
Difficulties with walking are not inevitable consequences of ageing explained scientists to the Alzheimer's Association's International Conference this week.
Walking changes instead may indicate an increased risk developing memory disorders and dementia.
"For busy doctors who have limited time with their patients, monitoring deterioration and other changes in a person's gait is ideal because it doesn't require any expensive technology or take a lot of time to assess. It is relatively simple and straightforward," said William Thies of the Alzheimer's Association.
A Swiss research team from the Basel Mobility Center studied the gait of individuals with varying levels of cognitive health, using a 10-meter-long electronic walkway with almost 30,000 integrated pressure sensors.
"Those with Alzheimer's dementia walked slower than those with mild cognitive impairment, who in turn walked slower than those who were cognitively healthy," said research leader Stephanie A. Bridenbaugh, in a statement.
"Some gait changes may even appear before cognitive decline can be detected by traditional testing methods."
However, Bridenbaugh ruled out replacing a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment to diagnose a patient's cognitive status with gait analysis.
"It may prove to be an important tool to aid diagnosis, and record treatment effects or disease progression," she said, in a statement."
Find out what your walking style says about your risk of Alzheimer's