Dual slowing gait and cognitive decline linked to dementia risk

Jun 23, 2022

A landmark analysis of health measures captured in the ASPREE study has found that a decline in both walking speed and cognition (thinking and memory) may be a predictor of future dementia. The authors of the study, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Open, suggest simple memory and walking speed testing, done in health clinics, may allow early preventive measures to be put in place.

The study, led by Dr Taya Collyer and A/Professor Michele Callisaya, from The National Centre for Healthy Ageing (NCHA) and ASPREE investigators used data from 16,855 Australian and US ASPREE participants, mostly aged 70 years and older.  Study participant’s gait, or walking speed, was measured at study entry, two, four and six years after beginning the study, together with thinking and memory scores (cognition).

Researchers compared cognition and gait speed between participants who had no decline in either measure, versus those who had a decline in one or both measures. They found the risk of dementia was highest in those whose gait speed and cognitive scores both declined, compared to those with these individual declines.

There will be more than 150 million people living with dementia by 2050, so it is important to be able to identify those at risk of the disease and to provide them with interventions such as exercise, controlling blood pressure and a healthy diet.

One hundred and seventy-eight ASPREE participants in this analysis developed dementia over the study period.

A/Professor Callisaya, who co-authored this research said, “This is the largest study to test the combined impact of both cognitive decline and reduction in gait as a predictor of dementia – specifically comparing objective measures of global cognition, processing speed, memory and verbal fluency.”

ASPREE participants, over 70 or over 65 if from a minority, were recruited from 2010-2014 in the US and Australia. All were free of cardiovascular disease, dementia or physical disability at the start of the study.

Gait speed was measured at face-to-face visits and was measured over two walks of three metres at usual pace from a standing start.

The authors, who include Prof Anne Murray, ASPREE’s Principal Investigator from the Berman Center for Outcomes and Clinical Research, said that serial measurement of gait along with simple measures of memory may be a more sensitive predictor for future dementia than either measure alone.

This post is adapted from a Monash University media release about the research.

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Clinicians Dual slowing gait and cognitive decline linked to dementia risk