Older Adults Who Have Slower Walking Speeds May Have Increased Risk for Dementia

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

As of 2015, nearly 47 million people around the world had dementia, a memory problem significant enough to affect your ability to carry out your usual tasks. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but other forms exist, too.

Because there’s currently no cure for dementia, it’s important to know about the risk factors that may lead to developing it. For example, researchers have learned that older adults with slower walking speeds seem to have a greater risk of dementia than those with faster walking speeds. Recently, researchers from the United Kingdom teamed up to learn more about changes in walking speed, changes in the ability to think and make decisions, and dementia. They published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers examined information collected from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. The study included adults aged 60 and older who lived 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. Continue reading

For Adults Younger than 78, Higher Risk for Heart Disease Linked to Higher Risk for Problems Walking

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Problems with balance, walking speed, and muscle strength become more common as we age, and can lead to disability. In fact, studies show that for older adults, having a slower walking speed can help predict chronic illness, hospitalization, and even death.

A team of researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm examined the factors that put older adults at higher risk for developing physical limitations as they age. The team studied information from the Swedish National Study on Aging and Care-Kungsholmen (SNAC-K), and published their research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers studied participants aged 60 or older who lived in Stockholm and who did not have heart disease at the start of the study. When the study began, participants did not have problems with walking speed, balance, or chair standing exercises. All of these measure your risk for falls. Continue reading

Older Adults Who Take More than Five Medications Walk Slower than Those Who Take Fewer Medications

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Polypharmacy” is the term used when someone takes many (usually five or more) different medications. Experts suggest that, for most older adults, taking that many medications may not be medically necessary. Taking multiple medications also can be linked to problems such as falls, frailty, disability, and even death. Polypharmacy also is a problem for older adults due to side effects or interactions resulting from the use of different medications. Older adults may have difficulties taking the medications properly, and the medications may interfere with a person’s ability to function well.

The ability to walk well is a sign of independence and good health for older adults, for example, and it may be affected by the use of multiple medications. Although healthcare providers know that some treatments can slow or hamper an older person’s ability to walk, little is known about the effects of polypharmacy on walking while performing other tasks, like talking. In a new study, researchers examined how polypharmacy affected walking while talking. They published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers examined information from 482 people age 65 and older who were enrolled in the “Central Control of Mobility in Aging” study. That study’s main purpose was to determine how changes to the brain and our central nervous system occur during aging, and how they might impact an older person’s ability to walk. Continue reading

Walking is the Best Medicine!

Lacing up your shoes and getting out the door is one of the best things older adults can do for their health and mood.

Barb Resnick HeadshotBarbara Resnick, PhD, CRNP
Professor
Sonya Ziporkin Gershowitz Chair in Gerontology
University of Maryland School of Nursing

The Surgeon General’s new “Call to Action on Walking” is a perfect opportunity to celebrate the many physical and mental health benefits of walking. In fact, if the benefits of walking came in pill form, I’m convinced it would be the best-selling pill on the planet! Walking is a scientifically proven, simple way to dramatically improve your well-being. No matter how old you are, when you walk regularly, you can enjoy benefits like these:

  • You can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol
  • You will start feeling happier, less anxious, and less stressed
  • Your sleep can become sounder and more restful
  • You may be able to lessen your risk of falling and reduce your fear of falling
  • You can prevent gaining weight
  • Your mental sharpness can improve

Recently, researchers from Johns Hopkins University discovered that for older women (but not older men), a low-intensity daily walk might enlarge the part of the brain responsible for memory. Known as the hippocampus, this section of the brain is linked to memory loss when it shrinks due to aging. [Varma et al. Low-Intensity daily walking associated with hippocampal volume in older adults. Hippocampus. 2015 May;25(5):605-15] 

Although we know that there is little risk associated with walking, many older adults are afraid that walking might worsen conditions such as arthritis. But the good news is that the opposite is true. In fact, when you walk just 3,000 steps a day, you can prevent the pain of knee arthritis from getting worse. And people who walk 6,000 steps a day (about 3 miles) can reduce their chances of becoming disabled by arthritis.

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