How fast older people walk may be related to the amount of amyloid they have built up in their brains, even if they don’t yet have symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published today (Wednesday 2 December 2015), in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The study involved 128 people with an average age of 76 who did not have dementia but were considered at high risk for developing it because of concerns about their memory. Participants had PET scans, which measures the amount of the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein amyloid in the brain. The progressive buildup of amyloid protein in the brain has been associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The study found that 48% of participants had a level of amyloid often associated with Alzheimer’s. The researchers found that those who had high amounts of amyloid in certain areas of their brain were more likely to walk at a slower speed.
Walking speed was measured with a standard test that times how fast someone can cover about 13 feet at their usual pace. The average walking speed was 3.48 feet per second.
Dr Louise Walker, Research Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Memory problems are the most recognisable symptom of Alzheimer’s disease but the condition can also affect people in many other ways, such as problems with navigation or concentration.
“Research has already shown that people with Alzheimer’s disease may have difficulties with walking – but it is unclear if this is due to the condition itself or other factors, especially those associated with ageing. More long-term research is needed to determine whether a build-up of the protein amyloid, which is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, directly leads to slower walking and whether this could form a suitable part of a clinician’s diagnostic process.
“An increasing amount of evidence indicates that the processes behind the development of Alzheimer’s disease begin years, or even decades, before symptoms show. Research into understanding the earliest signs of the condition is essential so that people who are identified as being at higher risk can access the treatments, support and information that they need.”