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Gait and cognitive decline

July 17, 2017
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Skilled nursing caregivers have long known that insecure or slowing gait can be a sign of trouble—and can increase fall risks. But slowing gait also can be a signal of cognitive decline, according to a cohort study at the University of Pittsburgh.

The study, published in Neurology, followed 175 seniors with an average age of 73 for 14 years, tracking changes in gait speed and the brain’s gray matter volume (GMV).

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found a connection between the part of the brain that controls gait and the part that is involved with certain kinds of cognitive decline—the right hippocampus. Those whose gait had gotten slower by just 0.1 seconds more than the cohort average were 47 percent more likely to experience cognitive decline, as evidenced by the shrinking of the right hippocampus.

Measuring gait speed on a regular basis could be a cost-effective way to screen for those at risk of cognitive decline, says Andrea L. Rosso, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of epidemiology, in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the study. “It’s both cheap and incredibly easy. Our study required only a stopwatch, tape and an 18-foot-long hallway, along with about 5 minutes of time once every year or so.”

Gait speed also could become one of the most-craved dementia tests—a test that could signal cognitive decline before other symptoms appear.

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