Slower walking speeds and dementia risk

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Researchers at the University College London and University of Nottingham found that older adults with slower walking speeds, and those who experienced a greater decline in their walking speed over time, were at increased risk for dementia, in a large UK analysis.

As of 2015, nearly 47m people around the world had dementia, a memory problem significant enough to affect your ability to carry out your usual tasks. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but other forms exist, too.

Because there’s currently no cure for dementia, it’s important to know about the risk factors that may lead to developing it. For example, researchers have learned that older adults with slower walking speeds seem to have a greater risk of dementia than those with faster walking speeds. Recently,
The researchers examined information collected from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The study included adults aged 60 and older who lived in England. In their study, the researchers used information collected from 2002 to 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.

Then, they compared the people who had developed dementia with those who had not. Researchers discovered that of the nearly 4,000 older adults they studied, those with a slower walking speed had a greater risk of developing dementia. And people who experienced a faster decline in walking speed over a two-year period were also at higher risk for 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 for dementia. But, the researchers noted, changes in walking speed and changes in an older adult’s ability to think and make decisions do not necessarily work together to affect the risk of developing dementia.

Abstract
Objectives: To determine the relationships between walking speed, cognitive function, and the interaction between changes in these measures and dementia risk.
Design: Longitudinal observational study.
Setting: English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.
Participants: Individuals aged 60 and older (N=3,932).
Measurements: Walking speed and cognition were assessed at Waves 1 (2002–03) and 2 (2004–05) of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. New dementia cases were assessed from Wave 3 (2006–07) to Wave 7 (2014–15). The associations were modelled using Cox proportional hazards regression.
Results: Participants with faster baseline walking speeds were at lower risk of developing dementia (hazard ratio (HR)=0.36, 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.22–0.60). Those with a greater decline in walking speed from Wave 1 to 2 were at greater risk of developing dementia (HR=1.23, 95% CI=1.03–1.47). Participants with better baseline cognition (HR=0.42, 95% CI=0.34–0.54) were at lower risk of developing dementia. Those with a greater decline in cognition from Wave 1 to 2 were at greater risk of developing dementia (HR=1.78, 95% CI=1.53–2.06). Change in walking speed and change in cognition did not have an interactive effect on dementia risk (HR=1.01, 95% CI=0.88–1.17).
Conclusion: In this community‐dwelling sample of English adults, those with slower walking speeds and a greater decline in speed over time were at greater risk of developing dementia independent of changes in cognition. Further research is required to understand the mechanisms that may drive these associations.

Authors
Ruth A Hackett, Hilary Davies-Kershaw, Dorina Cadar, Martin Orrell, Andrew Steptoe

American Geriatrics Society material
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society abstract


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