According to three new studies, a person's gait may predict the onset of Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia that gradually gets worse over time. It affects behavior, memory and thinking.
"With an aging baby boomer generation advancing into greater risk for Alzheimer's and dementia, it is important for physicians to be aware of the associations between gait and mental function. These studies suggest that observing and measuring gait changes could be a valuable tool for signaling the need for further cognitive evaluation," said William Thies, PhD, Alzheimer's Association Chief Medical and Scientific Officer, in a statement.
The first study included some 1,200 senior citizens. Researchers lead by Dr. Stephanie Bridenbaugh, from the Basel Mobility Center at the University Hospital Basel, found that gait changes were associated with cognitive decline in the elderly.
"Mobility impairments are often associated with dementia, and some gait changes may even appear before cognitive decline can be detected by traditional testing methods. Gait analysis can simply, quickly and objectively measure walking. When problems emerge, this may provide early detection of fall risk and the earliest stages of cognitive impairment in older adults," Bridenbaugh added.
Gait analysis can only be used along with other screening methods to predict the onset of Alzheimer's, researchers say.
"A gait analysis will not replace a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment to diagnose a patient's cognitive status. Gait analysis, however, may prove to be an important tool to aid diagnosis, and record treatment effects or disease progression," Bridenbaugh added.
The second study involved analysis of walking styles of more than 1,400 people over the age of 40. Researchers in this study found that gait was closely linked with cognitive abilities of a person, confirming the findings in the second study.
The third study was from Japan and was based on approximately 529 participants. Researchers in this study also found that gait and mental abilities are closely linked.
"Our research found that gait velocity was significantly decreased as the severity of dementia symptoms increased. Gait should no longer be considered a simple, automatic, motor activity that is independent of cognition. They are linked," Kenichi Meguro, lead author of the study.
Two more studies conducted by Rodolfo Savica (and team) and Lisa Silbert (and team) from U.S also showed that gait is associated with mental abilities.
Cost of Alzheimer's disease to the U.S. Economy
"In 2012, the direct costs of caring for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias to American Society will total an estimated $200 billion’, according to Alzheimer’s Association. "The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country and the only cause of death among top 10 in the U.S that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed."
By 2050, it is estimated that, the care costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias will soar to $1.1 trillion (in 2012 dollars).
The studies were presented this week at the annual meeting of the Alzheimer's Association.