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Walking slowly could be a key sign of dementia

People who walk slower and experience memory problems as they age are at an increased risk of developing dementia, a major global study has found.

Over seven years researchers from Australia and the US studied more than 16,800 people aged over 65 to identify the strongest predictors of a dementia diagnosis.

Participants undertook tests every two years to measure changes in their average walking gait and cognitive abilities.

Those who experienced a five per cent decline in walking speed year by year were at the highest risk of developing dementia.

This cohort, known as 'dual-decliners', also experienced symptoms of cognitive decline including memory loss and decreased speech abilities.

Researchers believe this target group could qualify for future preventative treatments.

"These results highlight the importance of gait in dementia risk assessment," wrote Taya Collyer, a research fellow at Peninsula Clinical School at Monash University.

"Dual decline in gait speed and a memory measure may be the best combination associated with an accurate assessment of future dementia risk."

Researchers found that those who slowed down but did not already show signs of cognitive decline were at similar risk to those whose walking speed remained the same.

The study, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests GPs and clinicians initiate simple memory tests in their practice to help identify those at risk early on.

"Older persons with dual decline in memory and gait speed should receive further attention to address issues that may increase dementia risk, including evaluation of cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors," the authors concluded.

There are an estimated 487,500 Australians currently living with dementia, according to Dementia Australia.

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