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Sensors that track how quickly older people walk may eventually serve as an early-detection system for cognitive decline, researchers say.
They installed infrared sensors on the hallway ceilings of some 90 people over the age of 70, all of whom lived alone, and unobtrusively monitored the participants for up to three years. The participants began the study either cognitively healthy, mildly impaired with memory loss or mildly impaired without memory loss (suffering from disorientation, say). Partly because it was the larger of the two impaired groups, the researchers focused on the “nonamnestic” impaired.
Walking speed correlated with cognitive ability, the data showed: Impaired participants were nine times more likely to be in the bottom third of walking speed than the top third (so average speed by itself is diagnostically useful). But even more interestingly, people in the early stages of impairment walked with more-variable speeds than their peers: Confusion seemed to be doing battle with physical confidence.
“In-Home Walking Speeds and Variability Trajectories Associated with Mild Cognitive Impairment,” Hiroko H. Dodge, Nora C. Mattek, Donald Austin, Tamara L. Hayes and Jeffrey A. Kaye, Neurology (June 12)