For quite a while, researchers have been searching for ways to accurately predict your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease or one of the other forms of memory-robbing dementia.
The idea is that the sooner you know your brain is in danger, the more motivated you might be to make lifestyle changes to shore up your brain health.
What’s more, an early warning also gives you more time to prepare for any physical, emotional or financial consequences of suffering from severe memory loss.
Now studies show there are two changes in your physical and mental health that, taken together, might be the kind of “your brain is in danger” sign that medical researchers have been looking for.
What Your Steps Say About Your Memory Health
If your walking speed starts to slow as you age, your chances of succumbing to dementia are likely speeding up. Several studies have revealed this unusual phenomenon.
For example, researchers in England analyzed changes in walking speed in older people by examining data collected during a study called the English Longitudinal Study of Aging.
During this study, researchers analyzed the walking speeds of people aged 60 and older between the years 2002 and 2003 and then again in 2004 to 2005. For the next nine years, between 2006 and 2015, researchers evaluated participants’ cognitive abilities and compared them with changes in their walking speeds.
Of the 4,000 people in the study, those who had slower walking speeds were found to be at greater risk of dementia.1 Additionally, the folks whose walking speed slowed down the most during the initial two-year test period had the highest risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
The researchers also discovered that people who had a reduced ability to think and make decisions at the start of the study and whose thinking abilities most quickly declined over the course of the study also had a greater chance of dementia.
This Double Deficit Increases Your Risk of Dementia More than Six Times
There’s more evidence. An analysis of six different studies involving about 8,700 people show that if you’re over 60 years old and your walking speed slows down at the same time as you begin to suffer from memory problems, your risk for dementia is multiplied by more than six times.2
This meta analysis, coordinated by researchers at the National Institutes of Aging in Baltimore, took a close look at studies performed in Europe between 1997 and 2018 to determine dementia risk. Furthermore, from this study — and other evidence — the researchers conclude that if you’re suffering from slower mobility at the same time your mental recall is shrinking, you should undertake an intensive preventive program of lifestyle changes to give yourself a fighting chance of avoiding dementia.
Researcher Manuel Montero-Odasso, of the University of Western Ontario in Canada, recommends incorporating exercise and replacing junk food with more fruits and vegetables for an effective dementia prevention lifestyle. Dr. Montero-Odasso says there’s no reason to wait, “in light of emerging evidence that lifestyle interventions — such as physical exercise, incorporating Mediterranean diets, or intensive blood pressure control — may help delay progression to dementia in older adults at risk.”3
Walking Speed Can Also Predict Depression
According to a study in Ireland, another potential use of measuring walking speed in older people is to diagnose depression in its early stages. The research shows that a significant slowdown can indicate the presence of mood problems that might require medical intervention. Irish scientists believe measuring walking speed might make it easier to diagnose depression in seniors, a notoriously difficult population for identifying depression.4
For one thing, older people are often unwilling to discuss their feelings. Many times, their depression shows up as excessive fatigue, trouble sleeping and irritability. Plus, they may seem confused and inattentive due to depression – and these symptoms may be mistaken for Alzheimer’s or some other neurological disorder.5
One thing all of these researchers agree on is the need to keep exercising at any age. Brisk walking every day – or walking as fast as you feel comfortable – may improve your fitness, mood and mental capacity. It might even stretch your longevity!