Need for speed with Alzheimer’s

If your walking speed – or your partner’s – has slowed in recent times, you might want to get out the whip. No joke.

As researchers worldwide race to uncover a treatment to combat Alzheimer’s, studies investigating what causes the condition continue to roll in.

Science Daily reports that in 2015, nearly 47 million people around the world had dementia, with the most common cause, though not the only one, being Alzheimer’s disease.

As there is no cure for dementia, and with an ageing population boosting the number of sufferers annually, risk factors are of enormous interest.

Researchers say they have learnt that older adults with slower walking speeds show a greater likelihood of developing dementia than those with faster walking speeds.

A research group from the United Kingdom studied changes in walking speed in relation to the ability to think and make decisions as well as dementia, and has published its findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The research paper, Walking Speed, Cognitive Function, and Dementia Risk in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, followed about 4000 adults aged 60 and older who lived in England and analysed information collected between 2002 and 2015.

“They assessed participants’ walking speed on two occasions in 2002-2003 and in 2004-2005, and whether or not the participants developed dementia after the tests from 2006-2015,” Science Daily website reports. “Then, they compared the people who had developed dementia with those who had not.”

Researchers discovered that those with a slower walking speed had a greater risk of developing dementia. And those who experienced a faster decline in walking speed over a two-year period were also at higher risk of dementia.

People who had a poorer ability to think and make decisions when they entered the study – and those whose cognitive (thinking) abilities declined more quickly during the study – were also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers concluded that older adults with slower walking speeds and those who experienced a greater decline in their walking speed over time were at increased risk of dementia.

Dementia Australia reports that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be very subtle in the early stages. These symptoms often begin with lapses in memory and difficulty in finding the right words for everyday objects.

Other symptoms may include:

  • persistent and frequent memory difficulties, especially of recent events
  • vagueness in everyday conversation
  • apparent loss of enthusiasm for previously enjoyed activities
  • taking longer to do routine tasks
  • forgetting well-known people or places
  • inability to process questions and instructions
  • deterioration of social skills
  • emotional unpredictability.

Have you had first-hand experience of someone with dementia? Have you got any advice?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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