Your walking pattern can be a sign of dementia.

July 14, 2022

Recently discovered studies in small groups of senior participants suggest that a slower walk from year to year may be an early indicator of cognitive decline. This may be because the right hippocampus, the part of the brain linked to memory, is shrinking, the studies suggest. However, not all signs of cognitive decline predict later dementia — only 10% to 20% of people age 65 or older with mild cognitive impairment or MCI develop dementia over time. According to the institute, "the symptoms of MCI may remain the same or even get better in many situations."

Now, a sizable, recent study of over 17,000 over-65 adults indicates that dementia is most likely to occur in people who walk at least 5% slower each year and show evidence of decreased mental functioning. The study, which was released on Tuesday in the journal JAMA Network Open, followed a group of Australians and Americans over the age of 70 and over 65 for a period of seven years. Participants in the study were required to complete cognitive tests that assessed verbal fluency, memory, processing speed, and general cognitive decline every other year. Additionally, individuals were required to walk 3 meters, or roughly 10 feet, twice every other year. The person's typical gait was calculated by averaging the two outcomes.

Exercise may help

As we age, there are things we can do to stop the normal aging-related shrinkage of our brains. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, improving some aspects of memory. The hippocampus is a peculiarly shaped organ located deep within the temporal lobe of the brain and is in charge of learning, memory consolidation, and spatial navigation, including the capacity to remember locations and orientations. Aerobic exercise training increased the volume of the right anterior hippocampus by 2%, reversing age-related losses in this region. Comparatively, individuals who solely engaged in stretching activities experienced an about 1.43 percent drop throughout the same time frame.

Exercise referred to as "aerobic" is characterized by an increase in respiration and heart rate, but not to the point where it interferes with daily activities. A variety of activities, such as brisk walking, swimming, jogging, biking, dancing, and kickboxing, as well as all the cardio equipment at your neighborhood gym, like a treadmill, elliptical trainer, rower, or stair climber, are examples of aerobic exercise.

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