Slow walking pace ‘should be used to identify dementia risk early’

A SLOW walking pace could be used to identify older adults at risk of developing dementia, according to new research.

The findings are based on an analysis of almost 50,000 people aged 60 and older known to have a Motoric Cognitive Risk (MCR), a syndrome that involves slow walking speed and self-reported memory difficulties.

The study team from Edinburgh University found that people with MRC are also at increased risk of cognitive impairment and experience higher mortality rates.

They hope this will lead to walking speed being routinely assessed when patients are examined for early signs of dementia.

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Dr Donncha Mullin, of the university’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, said: “It is quick, cheap, and easy to check for MCR.

“Adding it to the assessment of people with memory problems could be a practical way to help doctors identify patients at risk of developing dementia, especially in settings with minimal or no access to the current tests used to diagnose dementia.

“Importantly, our findings remained after taking into account other factors such as age and education level, as well as a past history of depression, stroke or heart attacks. However, more research is required before MCR is ready for use in the clinic.”

The findings are based on a meta-analysis of results from 15 previous studies involving people with MCR.

A participant met the criteria for MCR if they walked significantly slower than people of a similar age and sex, and had noticed issues with their memory.

The Edinburgh researchers found that people with MCR were more than twice as likely to develop dementia and were at a 76 per cent increased risk of cognitive impairment – trouble remembering, concentrating or learning new information – than people without MCR.

The team also found that the risk of mortality for people with MCR was 49% higher than those without it, and the risk of falls was 38% greater.

Researchers caution that because this was a pooling of observational studies, it was not possible to establish whether MCR directly causes these outcomes or is simply a risk factor for them.

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The study, which appears in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, was supported by the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre.

There are around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, and this is projected to double to 1.6 million by 2040.

Globally, the number of adults aged 40 years and older living with dementia worldwide is expected to nearly triple, from an estimated 57 million in 2019 to 153 million in 2050, due primarily to population growth and population ageing.

A Lancet Commission report published in 2020 suggested that up to 40% of dementia cases could be prevented or delayed if exposure to 12 known risk factors were eliminated.

These were low education, high blood pressure, hearing impairment, smoking, midlife obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, social isolation, excessive alcohol consumption, head injury, and air pollution

Dementia places a huge strain on patients and families, and the total cost of care for people with the condition in the UK is £34.7 billion per year.

It comes after separate research showed that those with three or more illnesses in midlife had a five-fold risk of developing the disease compared with people who had none.

These included coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, diabetes, hight blood pressure, cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), liver disease, depression, mental disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis.

The researchers said there was likely to be “cumulative effects of clustering of chronic diseases accelerating cognitive decline”, with inflammation in other parts of the body and drugs taken to control the illnesses possibly also behind the effect.

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