"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

A slow, unsteady gait may indicate memory problems.

Do you’ve a spring in your step or a wobble in your walk? The speed and stability of your stride may give necessary clues in regards to the state of your brain's health. According to latest research, an unsteady gait is an early warning sign that you possibly can be headed for memory problems down the road.

Young people, who naturally have strong motor and mental functions, can easily handle the multitasking that walking requires. For older people, putting one foot in front of the opposite requires extra thought. “With age, gait becomes less automatic and cognitive resources are used to compensate,” says Dr. Hausdorff. If those resources are already depleted because of cognitive decline or dementia, walking speed and stability will suffer.

What Your Walk Says About Your Brain Function

The link between cognitive function and walking isn't a brand new discovery—researchers have been investigating it for the past 10 years. “What's exciting about this research is that they're taking it to the next level,” says Dr. Hausdorff. “They showed that specific aspects of gait were related to specific aspects of cognitive decline.”

For example, the study found that:

  • Walking rhythm was related to information processing speed.
  • Walking variability and speed were related to executive function (the mental processes we use to plan and organize).
  • Walking speed slowed significantly as mental decline became more severe.

Walking tests offer a window into mental capability and overall health.

These studies suggest that walking tests could also be a simple solution to screen older adults for early signs of dementia and possibly other health conditions. “Walking speed is a very simple measure to obtain, and it is associated with many important outcomes,” says Dr. Hausdorff.

Oh Study in JamaFor example, it suggested that walking speed can predict survival in older adults, because it reflects the health of the guts, lungs, muscles, nerves and other vital organs. As Dr. Howard LeWine wrote on this blog last week, a brand new study published in Archives of internal medicine It seems that walking speed may help discover which seniors are most in danger for the unintended effects of hypertension. Walking tests may also predict fall risk. “This is one of the holy grails for pediatricians, because falls have a huge impact on the health of older adults and the health care system,” says Dr. Hausdorff.

If you're coping with the early stages of memory loss, don't consider it as an inevitable, incurable consequence of aging. Try mnemonic devices and other memory techniques that may help improve your ability to recollect. Quite a lot of treatments, from aerobic exercise to computer “games” and gait training in virtual reality, look like effective in improving each gait and cognitive function in older adults, Dr. Hausdorf says.