A new study published in the journal Neurology suggests that a simple test of walking speed and memory could aid in early diagnosis of dementia.

About 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia. It is estimated that this number will triple to almost 16 million by the year 2050.

Current methods used to diagnose dementia include physical examinations, memory tests and brain scans.

This new study, led by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center in New York, NY reports that a new test could potentially diagnose pre- dementia.

“As a young researcher, I examined hundreds of patients and noticed that if an older person was walking slowly, there was a good chance that his cognitive tests were also abnormal,” says senior study author Dr. Joe Verghese, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “This gave me the idea that perhaps we could use this simple clinical sign – how fast someone walks – to predict who would develop dementia.”

Dr. Verghese says that a 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in which he and colleagues wrote that abnormal walking gait (the pattern of walking) could predict the later development of dementia.

Based on that finding, the team developed a test that uses gait speed and cognitive complaints to diagnose motoric cognitive risk syndrome (MCR), which the researchers believe is an early sign of dementia.

The researchers estimated the prevalence of MCR by analyzing 22 studies, involving over 26,000 adults aged 60 or over who were free of dementia or disability. The team found that the participants who met the criteria for MCR were almost twice as likely to develop dementia during the 12-year follow-up, compared with those who did not meet MCR criteria.

Dr. Verghese notes, “our assessment method could enable many more people to learn if they’re at risk for dementia, since it avoids the need for complex testing and doesn’t require that the test be administered by a neurologist.

“Evidence increasingly suggests that brain health is closely tied to cardiovascular health, meaning that treatable conditions such as hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes can interfere with blood flow to the brain and thereby increase a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” he said.   medicalnewstoday.com     7/29/14

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