If You Notice This While Walking, Your Dementia Risk Is Higher, Study Says

Researchers found that this type of movement was a potential red flag for brain health.

How well you're able to get around as you age can differ wildly from person to person. In many cases, how well you've taken care of your body and any injuries you've suffered can have a lasting impact on how you move. But according to one study, moving a certain way while walking could also be an indicator of your brain health and your risk of dementia. Read on to see what red flag you should be looking for the next time you step out.

RELATED: If You Can't Hear While Doing This, Your Dementia Risk Is 91 Percent Higher.

A study found that walking slowly could be a sign of increased risk of dementia.


In a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in March 2018, a team of researchers from the University College London and University of Nottingham analyzed data collected from 3,932 adults older than 60 who had participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. The team first recorded the participants' walking speeds on two separate occasions sometime between 2002 and 2003 and again in 2004 to 2005. They then followed up by performing annual assessments with participants between 2006 and 2015 to see if any had been diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers then compared walking speed with results from the annual follow-ups and found that there was an increase in dementia diagnoses among participants who clocked slower walking speeds. Results also showed that those who showed a more significant decrease in walking speed between the testing periods were even more likely to have ultimately been diagnosed with the degenerative disease.

Researchers also found that those who were slow with decision-making were at a higher risk for dementia.

A senior woman sits at a table in front of a coffee while holding her head with a distressed look on her face

Besides not walking quickly, the researchers also found that being slow in another way was an indicator of high dementia risk. Results showed that participants who performed more slowly during cognitive and decision-making tests at the beginning of the study were also more likely to be diagnosed eventually. And similarly to a slowing pace, those who showed a decline in decision-making speed between testing sessions were at an even higher risk of dementia.

RELATED: This Could Be Your First Sign of Dementia Years Before Diagnosis, Study Says.

The team concluded that walking slowly as an older adult was a high-risk indicator for dementia.

elderly couple walking through lavender field

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that both older adults with slower walking speeds and those who showed a slowing down are at an increased risk for dementia. But the team stopped short of concluding that a decline in walking speed was responsible for a subsequent slowing of cognitive function in participants, saying that further research was needed to establish a connection between the two.

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Separate studies have uncovered other red flags about your brain health you may notice while walking.

older couple walking hand in hand outdoors

But it's not just your pace that could be a warning sign about your brain health. A 2012 study published in Gait & Posture analyzed the arm movements of Parkinson's patients who were in the early stages of the disease. Penn State researchers attached accelerometers to the arms of eight patients and eight people of similar age and sex who did not have Parkinson's disease. They then observed them as they walked continuously for around eight minutes at a comfortable pace. The results showed that those with Parkinson's had a significantly higher rate of arm swing asymmetry when walking—meaning one arm swung substantially less than the other.

"In other words, if I measure the location of your right arm, it is difficult to use that measurement to predict the location of your left arm," study co-author Joseph Cusumano, PhD, professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State, said in a statement. "It is well known that Parkinson's disease has an impact on how people move … but here we are for the first time precisely quantifying how the disease not only affects the relative amount of limb movements, but also how well coordinated in time these movements are."

RELATED: If You're Driving Like This, It Could Be an Early Alzheimer's Sign, Study Says.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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