Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease and dementia early has become increasingly important as researchers race to find therapies that will slow or halt these terrible diseases. At the moment, the only way to accurately diagnose Alzheimer's is to look at the patient's brain after he or she dies. So scientists are trying to find early signs of trouble.
One of the most intriguing is the pace of walking, which I have written about earlier. Several studies have found that slow walking may be a sign of impaired thinking. It doesn't mean the slow walker has dementia, but a slow pace – especially if it's an inconsistent pace – does seem to correlate with an increased risk of what is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that often progresses to dementia.
The most recent study to find a link between a slow walking pace and MCI was published in the June 12 issue of the journal Neurology. Researchers in Oregon looked at nearly 90 people who were at least 70 but were living independently. The participants were followed for 2.6 years.
The researchers found that slowest walkers were most likely to have thinking or memory problems. They also found that the people who would up with the most problems had increasing variability in their walking speed.
At this point, the connection between walking problems and developing dementia is unclear. This is just one piece of the dementia puzzle but it's certainly an intriguing one.