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Western University study shows promise for earlier dementia diagnoses

Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso leads the Gait and Brain Study. .
Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso leads the Gait and Brain Study. . Gait & Brain Lab/Lawson Health Research Institute

Researchers at Western University found that something as simple as walking and talking can be a predictor of dementia.

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The Gait and Brain Study, led by Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso at the Lawson Health Research Institute, saw researchers ask up to 150 participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to walk while simultaneously performing a cognitively demanding task such as counting backwards or naming animals.

The participants were assessed twice a year for six years and the research found that those who slowed down by more than 20 per cent are at a higher risk of dementia.

“While walking has long been considered an automatic motor task, emerging evidence suggests cognitive function plays a key role in the control of walking, avoidance of obstacles and maintenance of navigation,” said Montero-Odasso.

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“We believe that gait, as a complex brain-motor task, provides a golden window of opportunity to see brain function.”

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The study is ongoing, but Montero-Odasso hopes that the findings will allow for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias before significant memory loss.

“Our hope is to combine these methods with promising new medications to slow or halt the progression of MCI to dementia.”

The study, Association of Dual-Task Gait with Incident Dementia in Mild Cognitive Impairment, was published in the journal JAMA NEUROLOGY and is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.