Foggy memory and slow walking speed, separately, are early signs for the risk of dementia. A recent study showed that the combination of memory and walking pace decline is even more blaring. The results published in JAMA Network Open, on Feb 5, suggest that individuals with dual decline can serve as valuable targets for preventive interventions.

The study led by the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health investigated 8,699 participants who were 60 and older in multiple long-term studies of aging across the US and Europe. 

Compared to usual agers, who had no decline in memory recall and walking speed test performances, individuals who experience dual decline had over six times the risk of developing dementia. The drop in walking pace alone roughly doubles the risk of developing dementia while memory loss itself triples the risk.

In the past, scientists have associated impaired mobility such as slow walking, or slow gait, with an increased risk of dementia. However, musculoskeletal problems can also cause mobility impairment. The combination of assessing the decline in gait speed and memory could help identify that the symptoms are at least partially caused by neurodegeneration.

The team noted that memory assessment and dementia diagnosis procedure varied across the studies, and these were limitations of the analysis. Furthermore, the researchers adjusted some participants’ data who had a higher baseline walking speed and memory performance, resulting in a more dramatic decline than those with lower baseline.

“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 team stated in the study. “They may be a group to target for preventive or therapeutic interventions.”

The next step for the team is to further investigate the underlying mechanism of why dual decline in individuals is more likely to progress to dementia and how.