Change in walking pace in the elderly 'could be a sign they are in early stages of dementia'
23:30 GMT, 11 June 2012
Older people whose walking pace suddenly starts to slow may be suffering from the early stages of dementia, according to a new study.
Researchers found that changes in walking speed in late life may signal the early stages of dementia, known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
Study author Dr Hiroko Dodge, of Oregon Health and Science University in the United States, said: 'In our study, we used a new technique that included installing infrared sensors in the ceilings of homes, a system designed to detect walking movement in hallways.
Keeping pace: A new study has found that a slowing of walking speed among elderly people could be a sign of the early onset of dementia
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Research: The study linking a slowing of walking pace to dementia was carried out by Dr Hiroko Dodge, of Oregon Health and Science University
They were given memory and thinking tests and had their walking speed monitored at their homes unobtrusively over a three-year period.
They were placed in groups of slow, moderate or fast based on their average weekly walking speed and how much their walking speed fluctuated at home.
The study found that people with non-memory related MCI were nine times more likely to be slow walkers than moderate or fast walkers and the amount of the fluctuation in walking speed was also associated with MCI.
Dr Dodge added: 'Further studies need to be done using larger groups of participants to determine whether walking speed and its fluctuations could be a predictor of future memory and thinking problems in the elderly.
'If we can detect dementia at its earliest phases, then we can work to maintain people’s independence, provide treatments and ultimately develop ways to prevent the disease from developing. Our in-home monitoring approach has a lot of potential to be used for sustaining independence of the elderly.'
The research was published in the journal Neurology.