A simple walking test could show if Alzheimer’s patients have the disease, say researchers after they found a link between the two.
In one test patients with a shorter stride and lower cadence and velocity in their walk also experienced memory problems and issues with cognition.
Another test found a person’s gait became “slower and more variable as cognition decline progressed”.
The findings are the first time that a physical symptom has been linked to the disease.
Previous research looked into cognition by carrying out neurological exams which tended to be costly and take a long time.
A simple walking test could show if Alzheimer’s patients have the disease
In future patients could simply be asked to walk and be observed over a number of months to see if they are at risk.
Crucially, the scientists said that walking changes can occur even before cognition decline surfaces.
Both pieces of research were presented at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver, Canada.
The first from the US-based Mayo Clinic involved monitoring how 1,341 participants walked through a gait sensor in two or more visits spaced 15 months apart.
The researchers found that walking changes occur because the disease interferes with the circuitry between areas of brain.
Lead researcher Rodolfo Savica said: “Walking and movements require a perfect and simultaneous integration of multiple areas of the brain.
“These changes support a possible role of gait changes as an early predictor of cognitive impairment.”
The second piece of research was carried out by Basel Mobility Center in Basel, Switzerland, and was on 1,153 adults with a mean age of 78.
The team found that people with Alzheimer’s walked more slowly than those with mild cognitive impairment.
They said that an annual test might help detect the disease early and that often relatives of Alzheimer’s patients comment on how badly a person is walking.
Bill Thies, chief medical and scientific officer for the US-based Alzheimer’s Association, said: “Monitoring deterioration and other changes in a person’s gait is ideal because it doesn’t require any expensive technology or take a lot of time to assess.”
Recent research into Alzheimer’s found that signs of dementia may appear 25 years before patients or their family sees any outward symptoms.
Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis believe the brains and spines of those with the disease change in their 30s and 40s, several decades before memory loss and confusion sets in.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombian writer and winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature, is suffering from dementia, says his brother.
Jaime Garcia Marquez told students at a lecture in the city of Cartagena that his brother, who is 85, phones him frequently to ask basic questions.
“He has problems with his memory. Sometimes I cry because I feel like I’m losing him,” he said.
He is the first family member to speak publicly about the problem.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombian writer and winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature, is suffering from dementia
There have been rumors about Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ memory problems.
Invited to talk about his relationship with Gabo, as the writer is affectionately known in Colombia, his younger brother Jaime said he could not hold back from talking about his illness anymore.
“He is doing well physically, but he has been suffering from dementia for a long time,” he said.
“He still has the humor, joy and enthusiasm that he has always had.”
The 1967 masterpiece of magic realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude, begins with the story of a family unable to care for their senile grandfather.
“It is a disease that runs in the family,” said Jaime Garcia Marquez.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez currently lives in Mexico and has not made many public appearances in recent years.
According to his brother the author of Love in the Time of Cholera has stopped writing altogether.
British researchers involved in Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA), which studies the causes of dementia, have found that B vitamins supplements could slow shrinkage of the brain and the rate of cognitive decline.
In 2011, the researchers recruited 270 elderly people with memory problems and gave them Vitamin B tablets – folic acid (800 micrograms), B12 (500 micrograms) and B6 (20 milligrams).
The supplements were found to slow shrinkage of the brain by an average of 30% a year – and slow the rate of cognitive decline – in people with high blood levels of homocysteine. Raised levels of this amino acid can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease three or four-fold.
By regulating homocysteine with B vitamins, the British researchers showed for the first time it is possible to slow the progress of the disease, if the treatment starts early. More trials are needed to test whether continued treatment can delay its progress indefinitely, but B vitamins have been shown to be as good clinically as Aricept (donepezil) – and better in that they slow the disease progression rather than ease the symptoms.
British researchers have found that B vitamins supplements could slow shrinkage of the brain and the rate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer patients
There is no way of knowing who is predisposed to Alzheimer, apart from extremely rare familial forms of the disease.
But those with memory problems should have their homocysteine measured and be started on B vitamins, under medical guidance. Normal dietary intake isn’t enough. One (200ml) glass of semi-skimmed milk contains 2.5 micrograms of B12, and most manage to eat five micrograms a day. But we do know people with high Vitamin B intakes are less likely to develop dementia, so every little helps.
Large-scale studies are needed to see if nutrition and exercise can slow the conversion of memory impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers also need to know if they improve the response to drugs such as donepezil.
For OPTIMA, the next step is a trial of 1,000 people with MCI to see if B vitamins prevent the conversion to dementia over a two-year period.