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Your Walk May Indicate Alzheimer's: August 18, 2012

The way you walk could be a hint as to whether you will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, according to several new studies. Changes in walking patterns could be an early warning that cognitive decline is underway.

The statistics on Alzheimer’s are head-spinning: 5.4 million Americans are living with it. One in eight older Americans has it.  It’s the sixth leading cause of death in this country. Alzheimer’s can’t be prevented or cured, but doctors stress the importance of catching it early.

“Early diagnosis certainly has benefits, while you still have most of your or all of your functional ability to make decisions and exercise good judgment,” Dr. Michael Raab, a geriatrician with Lee Memorial Health System.

Several new studies converged on a common point.  The way you walk may provide an early indicator of cognitive impairment. Movement is one of the things they look for during a comprehensive screening given by Lee Memorial Health System.

“We’re fortunate to have neuropsychologists, that spend about three hours interviewing people, doing standardized tests where they are able to compare the person against their age related norms,” says Dr. Raab.

Researchers found thinking skills like memory and information processing decline almost in parallel with the ability to walk fluidly. So doctors are evaluating a slowing of pace, a change in gait and loss of control.
“We do physical examinations so we look at how the brain controls your balance, how well you can move your body rapidly, alternating from one position to another,” says Dr. Raab.

So when it comes to evaluating and predicting Alzheimer’s, there may be something in the way we move.

“We look at all those things and try to put together a full picture,” says Dr. Raab.