Slight changes in how a person walks may be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease. According to research reported on at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Canada in mid July, researchers stated that a change in walking style often surfaces before a person with Alzheimer’s disease shows any evidence of decreased cognitive capacity.
The researchers looked at several studies which measured walking and cognitive functions in thousands of subjects. One study, performed by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, examined over 1300 participants and evaluated their walking cadences, velocity, and stride length. Over a period of 15 months, the researchers noted that participants who had a decreased cadence, velocity, and length of stride also had the most significant declines in mental performances, such as memory and global cognition.
The researchers say that because Alzheimer’s disease impacts the brain’s ability to communicate between different parts, a slight change in walking style is not a surprising result. Walking requires various parts of the brain to communicate reliably, and once those areas are affected by a degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, walking behavior can change.
The research may lead to earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, though more extensive testing would be required to determine if someone has the disease. Alzheimer’s currently afflicts almost 5 1/2 million people in the United States. As baby boomers continue to age and retire at a rate of 10,000 per day, experts estimate that an additional 16 million people may suffer from the disease by 2050.