Slowed Walking in Seniors: Alzheimer’s Danger?
By Maureen Salamon
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Seniors who walk more slowly may have higher amounts of a protein linked to Alzheimer’s in their brains, a small, new study suggests.
Researchers found a modest association between higher levels of amyloid plaques — dense deposits of a protein known as beta amyloid — and slower walking speeds among older adults.
“These results suggest that subtle walking disturbances, in addition to subjective memory concerns, may signal Alzheimer’s disease, even in people who are fully asymptomatic and have a walking pace within the normal range,” said study author Natalia del Campo, scientific manager of the Centre of Excellence in Neurodegeneration in Toulouse, France.
“Taking into account physical parameters that are not conventionally looked at in Alzheimer’s disease, such as gait speed, may help optimize the early identification of patients at risk,” added del Campo, who is also a postdoctoral fellow at the Gerontopole Research Centre in Toulouse.
The study was published online Dec. 2 in the journal Neurology.
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, an incurable, fatal disease that destroys memory, language, thinking and reasoning skills, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Increasingly, clinical research is focusing on spotting early signs of the disease that may go unconsidered prior to diagnosis.
The cross-sectional study, which allowed researchers to look at participants at one specific point in time, only establishes an association between brain amyloid levels and walking speed, but not a cause-and-effect relationship between the two, del Campo noted.
The research team analyzed 128 people (average age 76) who did not have a formal diagnosis of dementia but were considered at high risk because of memory problems. Brain scans measured amyloid plaque levels in their brains, with 48 percent registering a level often associated with dementia.
Additionally, participants underwent thinking and memory skills testing, with 46 percent classified as having mild cognitive impairment, a condition that can lead to Alzheimer’s. Walking speed was measured using a standard test timing how fast participants walked 13 feet at their usual pace, and all but two tested within normal range.