Tracking daily movement may help predict dementia

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Scientists from Johns Hopkins found wearable movement-tracking devices may someday be useful in providing early warnings of cognitive decline among older adults.

They found big differences in movement patterns between people with normal cognition and those with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

These differences included less activity during waking hours and more fragmented activity during afternoons among the mild cognitive impairment/Alzheimer’s participants.

The research is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and was conducted by Amal Wanigatunga et al.

The recent introduction of wearable activity-tracking devices, which are now used by tens of millions of people around the world, has presented an important opportunity for health researchers to measure and track changes in physical movement.

The devices can provide automatic, objective measures of daytime physical activity, sleep patterns, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels—and they are typically Internet-connected, allowing their manufacturers to build datasets covering millions of users.

In the study, the researchers analyzed data from ActiGraph activity monitors, which use an activity-tracking sensor similar to those found in Fitbits and Apple watches, worn by nearly 600 participants in a long-running community-based health study of older adults.

They found that overall differences in all-day activity measures were not strongly different between the mild cognitive impairment/Alzheimer’s and normal cognition groups.

However, when the researchers focused on activity patterns during certain times of the day, some differences were revealed.

In the mornings (6 a.m. to noon) and even more so in the afternoons (noon to 6 p.m.), the mild cognitive impairment/Alzheimer’s group had significantly lower measures of activity compared to the normal group.

The most striking finding was that activity “fragmentation”—a breaking up of activity into smaller time periods—was 3.4 percent higher for the mild cognitive impairment/Alzheimer’s participants during the afternoon period.

The team says one of the main symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia is the ‘sundowning’ phenomenon involving increased confusion and mood changes that start in the afternoon

It might be that these activity markers are capturing some movement related to these symptoms.

The findings support the idea that cognitive decline into mild cognitive impairment and dementia is accompanied by changes in activity patterns.

If you care about brain health, please read studies that common food oil in the U.S. could change genes in the brain, and how to use a healthy lifestyle to prevent dementia.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about the biggest risk factors for dementia risk, and results showing these things could help prevent 40% of dementia cases.

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