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Walking slowly associated with mental decline

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Scientists have long believed that a slower walking pace in older people may be linked to dementia.

Now a team of researchers has identified the changes in the brain, which explain why.

They discovered that people who developed slowed walking show a shrinkage of their right hippocampus. This area of the brain, which is similar in shape to a seahorse, is primarily associated with memory and the ability to maintain posture.

The findings suggest dementia could be treated earlier if doctors regularly measure the walking speeds of older patients and watch for changes over time.

That’s according to a 14-year study carried out by experts at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

There are 850,000 people with dementia in the United Kingdom (U.K.), with numbers set to rise to over one million by 2025. This will soar to two million by 2051.

“Prevention and early treatment may hold the key to reducing the global burden of dementia, but the current screening approaches are too invasive and costly to be widely used,” explained Andrea Rosso, assistant professor at the university.

“Our study required only a stopwatch, tape and an 18-foot-long hallway, along with about five minutes of time once every year or so,” she noted in a university news release.

For the study, the researchers looked at 175 people, aged 70 to 79, who all had good health and normal mental function at the start of the study period.

The participants all had regular assessments over the years, involving the participants walking an 18-foot stretch of hallway while they were timed.

At the conclusion of the study, they were tested again for their mental sharpness and were given brain scans. The right hippocampus was the only area of the brain found to shrink in relation to both gait slowing and cognitive impairment.

The findings were published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

In this article:
Dementia


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