Dementia is an umbrella term for a collection of symptoms that arise when the brain is damaged by disease, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. There is currently no known cure for the condition so research has sought to identify potential risk factors that may indicate your likelihood of developing dementia. Identifying potential risk factors can spur people on to take proactive steps to delay the onset of dementia and maintain quality of life for as long as possible.
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Memory loss is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of brain decline, but a recent study suggests a change in your walking habit may also indicate your risk.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found an association between walking speed in older adults and dementia risk.
Researchers from the United Kingdom joined forces to learn more about changes in walking speed, changes in the ability to think and make decisions, and dementia.
The researchers examined information collected from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a large-scale study that collects data from people aged over 50 to understand all aspects of ageing in England.
In their study, the researchers used information collected from 2002 to 2015.
They assessed participants’ walking speed on two occasions in 2002-2003 and in 2004-2005, and whether or not the participants developed dementia after the tests from 2006-2015.
Then, they compared the people who had developed dementia with those who had not.
After doing a comparative analysis, researchers discovered that of the nearly 4,000 older adults they studied, those with a slower walking speed had a greater risk of developing dementia.
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What’s more, people who experienced a faster decline in walking speed over a two-year period were also at higher risk for dementia.
In addition, people who had a poorer ability to think and make decisions when they entered the study – and those whose cognitive (thinking) abilities declined more quickly during the study – were also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
The researchers concluded that older adults with slower walking speeds, and those who experienced a greater decline in their walking speed over time, were at increased risk for dementia.
But, the researchers noted, changes in walking speed and changes in an older adults’ ability to think and make decisions do not necessarily work together to affect the risk of developing dementia.
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Emphasising the importance of keeping active to reduce the risk of dementia, a sedentary lifestyle has been associated with an increased risk.
As the NHS explains, a lack of regular physical activity can increase your risk of heart disease, becoming overweight or obese, and type 2 diabetes – all of which are risk factors for dementia.
“Older adults who don’t exercise are also more likely to have problems with memory or thinking (known as cognitive abilities),” explains the health site.
To keep the risk at bay, the health body recommends doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, such as brisk walking, cycling or dancing.
“It’s also important to sit less, so try to get up and move around regularly. For example, take the stairs and walk up escalators, and make phone calls while standing up,” it adds.
In addition, eating a healthy, balanced diet may offer protection against brain decline.
According to Dementia UK, brain-healthy foods include:
- Beans, lentils, soya
- Green leafy vegetables
- Olive oil
- Other colourful vegetables
- Red wine – in moderation
As the charity explains, you should also stay within the recommended limits of 14 units of alcohol each week: “If you regularly drink much more than this, you’re at risk of alcohol-related brain damage.”
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