Your cognition and walking speed often decline together

In a new study, researchers found that thinking and walking go hand in hand in determining the health course of older adults.

The two functions often parallel each other in determining a person’s health trajectory.

The study was conducted by UT Health San Antonio researchers.

In the study, the researchers analyzed data from 370 participants in the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging (SALSA) and found that they grouped into three distinct trajectories.

These classifications were based on the participants’ changes on a cognitive measure and a gait speed task over an average of 9½ years:

Stable cognition and gait class (65.4% of the participants).

Cognitive and physical vulnerability class (22.2%).

Physical vulnerability class (12.4%).

In the community-based sample of American older adults aged 65 to 74 years old at baseline, the team found the majority of individuals began the study with higher scores in both cognition and gait speed.

During follow-up, this group demonstrated resilience to age-related declines and continued to be functionally independent.

In contrast, one-fifth of individuals began the study with lower scores in cognition and gait speed. They experienced deterioration in each domain during the follow-up period.

The third group of individuals termed the physical vulnerability class, demonstrated stable cognition throughout the study, but their gait speed slowed over time.

The team says for most of the population they studied, changes in cognition and gait speed were parallel, which suggests shared mechanisms.

Cognition and gait speed may be altered by blood vessel disease, brain tissue insults, hormone regulation, and abnormal deposits of amyloid beta and tau proteins in the brain.

Amyloid beta and tau deposits are well-known indicators of Alzheimer’s disease but may impact gait, too.

Abnormal protein deposition promotes neurodegeneration and synaptic loss, which may induce dysfunction in brain regions governing cognition and gait.

Another possibility is damage to white matter in regions integral to both cognition and gait coordination.

The lead author of the study is Helen Hazuda, Ph.D., a professor in UT Health San Antonio’s Long School of Medicine and the principal investigator of SALSA.

The study is published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

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