Experts from the University of Edinburgh found people with Motoric Cognitive Risk (MCR) – a syndrome that involves slow walking speed and self-reported memory difficulties – are also at increased risk of cognitive impairment and experience higher mortality rates.
The team behind the study hope the findings will lead to walking speed being routinely assessed when patients are examined for early signs of dementia.
Those involved in the study were considered to have MCR if they walked significantly slower than people of a similar age and sex, and had noticed issues with their memory.
Experts found people with MCR were more than twice as likely to develop dementia and were at a 76 per cent increased risk of cognitive impairment – trouble remembering, concentrating or learning new information – than people without MCR.
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Researchers looked at the data of almost 50,000 people aged 60 years and older with MCR across 15 studies.
The team also found the risk of mortality for people with MCR was 49 per cent higher than those without it, and the risk of falls was 38 per cent greater.
Researchers issued caution that because this was a pooling of observational studies, it was not possible to establish whether MCR causes these outcomes or is simply a risk factor for them.
There are around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, and this is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
Around the world, 50 million people live with dementia, with that number expected to triple over the next 30 years.
Dementia impacts cognitive thinking such as remembering and reasoning, with the total cost of care for people with the condition in the UK estimated at around £34.7 billion per year.
Experts behind the study hope a quick and easy check for MCR could result in earlier diagnosis or lead to finding those who could be at risk of developing the dementia syndrome, which in turn would allow time for lifestyle modification and planning for future care needs.
It is also hoped any proof of correlation with further research could ultimately contribute to a reduction in overall prevalence of dementia.
Dr Donncha Mullin, of the University of Edinburgh’s Center for Clinical Brain Sciences, said: “It is quick, cheap, and easy to check for MCR. Adding it to the assessment of people with memory problems could be a practical way to help doctors identify patients at risk of developing dementia, especially in settings with minimal or no access to the current tests used to diagnose dementia.
“Importantly, our findings remained after taking into account other factors such as age and education level, as well as a past history of depression, stroke or heart attacks.”
I have added: “However, more research is required before MCR is ready for use in the clinic.”
The study was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, and was supported by the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.