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Slow Walking Speed Of Elderly May Be Linked To Alzheimer's

Update Date: Dec 06, 2015 04:26 PM EST

Elderly people who are slow in their gait while walking could be undergoing the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, says a new study by researchers of the University Hospital Toulouse  in France.

The study examined 128 elderly participants whose average age was 76 years. They had memory problems and were also at high risk for dementia.

Scientists conducted positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans, which indicated that 48 percent of the participants had thick deposits of amyloid plaques in their brains. These were made up of beta amyloid, which is a protein linked with the development of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

When the participants were tested for their thinking and memory skills, 46 percent of them displayed mild cognitive problems.

When they probed their walking speed, scientists found that participants who shuffled slowly had greater deposits of amyloid in the brain, especially in the putamen, one region that was part of motor function skills.

Due to the amyloid deposits, researchers found that there could be a 9 percent variation in their walking speeds. These results remain consistent even when factors like age, memory problems and education are taken into account.

"It's possible that having subtle walking disturbances in addition to memory concerns may signal Alzheimer's disease, even before people show any clinical symptoms," study author Natalia del Campo said in a press release.

However, del Campo said that the study indicated a link between walking speed and beta amyloid buildup, even though there is no "cause-and-effect relationship".

The study was published Dec. 2 in the journal Neurology.

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