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According to a new study, a gradual decline in cognitive function and decreased walking speed may be linked to an increased risk of dementia in older adults. Understanding dementia and its risk factors can help ensure you take steps to support your brain health as you age.
What is dementia?
“Dementia is the general diagnosis of a significant but gradual decline in memory, communication, judgment and problem-solving skills to the extent that it affects your ability to function independently and perform daily activities,” said Donna Raziano, M.D., Medical Director at Inspira LIFE, who is ABIM certified in Internal Medicine, Geriatric Medicine and Hospice & Palliative Care. “The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is a progressive condition affecting parts of the brain that control language, thought and memory.”
Warning signs of dementia may include:
- Forgetting the names of close friends and family members
- Getting lost in a familiar place
- Using unfamiliar words when referring to everyday objects
- Forgetting the recent past
- Struggling to complete routine tasks independently
Treatment for dementia depends on its specific symptoms and underlying cause. While some cases are reversible, some types of dementia, like neurodegenerative dementia, have no cure. Medications and therapies are available to help manage the symptoms, and there is ongoing research for more effective treatment options.
Predictors of dementia
The new dementia study, completed in May 2022, analyzed nearly 17,000 adults over 65 and concluded that people whose walking speed reduces by approximately 5 percent or more each year and whose performance on cognitive tests measuring memory gradually worsened over several years had an increased likelihood of developing dementia later in life.
While each of these individual factors may put you at a higher risk of developing dementia, researchers found that the presence of both factors combined is the strongest predictor of dementia risk.
The connection between walking speed and cognitive decline
“Recent research shows a correlation between a gradually declining walking pace and shrinking in the right hippocampus, a small but complex part of the brain located deep in the temporal lobe and associated with memory and spatial awareness,” said Dr. Raziano. “Since dementia occurs as a result of damage to brain cells that may dramatically shrink areas of the brain, this correlation could explain why walking speed may be a risk factor.”
Supporting your brain health
The best way to maintain your brain health is through regular exercise. “Routine aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of dementia and improve your overall cognitive performance,” said Dr. Raziano. “Exercise also enhances neuroplasticity, which is your brain’s ability to change and form new connections through growth and reorganization.”
Inspira LIFE is a comprehensive program designed to help adults 55 and older with ongoing health needs as independently as possible while meeting their health and caregiving needs. Learn more about Inspira LIFE and explore your options for compassionate senior health care.
Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.