Walk The Line: Walking Speed And Trajectory Linked To Mild Cognitive Impairment [Study]

Do your elderly grandparents walk slowly or fluctuate their walking speeds? If yes, then they might also be suffering from mild cognitive impairment, says a new study released in the June 12, 2012 issue of Neurology.

Performed by researchers at the Oregon Center for Aging and Technology, a recent study sought to determine whether the walking speed and trajectory of elderly individuals could help distinguish patients with mild cognitive impairment from patients whose cognition remained intact.

To determine a link, if any, between walking speed and cognitive impairment, researchers installed passive infrared sensors in the homes of elderly individuals who were living alone and who were also participating in the Intelligent Systems for Assessing Aging Change (ISAAC) cohort study. The participants in the study included 54 with intact cognition, 31 with non-amnestic mild cognitive impairment, and 8 with amnestic mild cognitive impairment. All 93 of the participants were aged at least 70 years or older.

According to Hiroko Dodge, PhD, one of the authors of the study and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, using the sensors installed on the ceilings where the participants lives is a new technique “designed to detect walking movement in hallways.” As Dodge states in a press release for the American Academy of Neurology:

“By using this new monitoring method, we were able to get a better idea of how even subtle changes in walking speed may correlate with the development of MCI [mild cognitive impairment].”

The researchers concluded that walking speed as well as the variability is walking speed is an early marker of the development of mild cognitive impairment. Individuals with non-memory related cognitive impairment were nine times more likely to be slow walkers. Furthermore, individuals with mild cognitive impairment fluctuate their walking speed more frequently than those without cognitive problems.

As Dodge further comments:

“Further studies need to be done using larger groups of participants to determine whether walking speed and its fluctuations could be a predictor of future memory and thinking problems in the elderly. If we can detect dementia at its earliest phases, then we can work to maintain people’s independence, provide treatments and ultimately develop ways to prevent the disease from developing. Our in-home monitoring approach has a lot of potential to be used for sustaining independence of the elderly.”

Do you think that the new-found link between walking speed and mild cognitive impairment will help elderly individuals with cognitive problems get help earlier?