Slowed walking speed? Is it Alzheimer’s? Maybe not.

Yet another reason why the word “may” shouldn’t appear in headlines:

Slowed walking speed may be early predictor of Alzheimer’s decline

Or not.

It’s difficult to say, for certain, as is the case with many research papers. According to CBS, which reported on three studies presented at a conference on Alzheimer’s...

After testing for “normal walking” and two “dual task” tests which included walking while counting backwards or naming animals, the researchers found that how fast a person walked – or gait speed – slowed as cognitive problems progressed. Patients with Alzheimer’s walked slower than those with MCI, who walked slower than healthy people. For all groups, walking speeds were slower during the dual testing phase than for the normal walking test.

“Mobility impairments are often associated with dementia, and some gait changes may even appear before cognitive decline can be detected by traditional testing methods,” study author Dr. Stephanie A. Bridenbaugh, a researcher at the Basel Mobility Center in Switzerland, said in a press release. “When problems emerge, this may provide early detection of fall risk and the earliest stages of cognitive impairment in older adults”

Another study made a similar link. But, again, count the number of “may” references …

The third study found that how a person walks in the home may predict cognitive decline. It looked at 19 dementia-free people who underwent MRI scans to measure the volume of certain portions of their brains. Participants were also tested for walking speed at the doctor’s office before undergoing an MRI and then at home, using motion sensors that collected walking data over the course of a month.

The researchers found slower walking speeds in the home were associated with smaller brain size, and more associated with less volume in the hippocampus – an area essential for memory processing. Researchers could not find a similar affect for the single walking test taken before their MRI scans, which suggests how a person walks at home may be a better indicator of cognitive problems.

The danger in reporting the studies, however, is that the person’s gait is measured as well as other factors and that’s where the connection with Alzheimer’s appears to be. If you feel like walking slowly today, go ahead. It may not be a big deal.

  • Tyler

    My rule with headlines – if it’s a question, answer “no.” If there’s a “may” or “may not,” add the opposite on to the end of the sentence and move on to the next question.