A slowing gait could be one of the first observable changes in people who will develop Alzheimer’s disease and/or dementia. That’s the consensus of multiple studies that were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver. The research marks the first time walking deterioration has been linked with suffering cognition.

A decline in ambulation has long been associated with aging, but the research indicates that gait changes can signify something deeper. An increasingly slow walking speed and a decrease in stride length can suggest declines in memory, executive function and global cognition.

Walking analysis may be a simple tool for forecasting Alzheimer’s disease relatively early. “If gait begins to deteriorate, we begin to have a conversation about how is your memory,” said William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer’s Association.

For more information, read the studies cited by the Alzheimer’s Association:

Bridenbaugh S, Monsch AU, Kressig RW. How does gait change as cognitive decline progresses in the elderly? Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2012;8(4):P131–P132: http://www.alzheimersanddementia.com/article/S1552-5260(12)00481-5/abstract

Mielke M, Savica R, Drubach D, et al. Slow gait predicts cognitive decline: A population-based cohort study. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2012;8(4):P318: http://www.alzheimersanddementia.com/article/S1552-5260(12)01007-2/abstract

By Kindred Hospital Rehabilitation Services