2020 Fall GAPNA Newsletter Volume 39 Issue 3

Dual Decline in Memory and Walking Speed Could Signal Higher Dementia Risk

Scientists who study aging have long tracked older adults’ declines in cognitive abilities and walking speed as separate indicators of potential risk for developing dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.

But a recent study showed that a combined decline in memory and walking speed were a bright, flashing warning light of increased risk for dementia.

An international research team analyzed data from 8,699 participants 60 years old or older in multiple long-term studies of aging conducted between 1997 and 2018. By itself, decline in walking speed, or gait speed, more than doubled the risk for developing dementia, while memory decline alone tripled it.

But people who showed parallel declines in gait speed and memory had an overall six times higher risk of dementia than those with no drop-offs in memory recall or walking speed test performance.

Overall, the researchers noted, findings support the routine use of gait speed and verbal memory recall tests by clinicians to identify older adults at high risk for dementia. Healthcare providers could then give further attention to address other dementia risk factors, such as high blood pressure.

Future work in this realm could examine if these dual decliners could be a target group for preventive or therapeutic interventions.


Tian, Q., Resnick, S.M., Mielke, M.M., Yaffe, K., Launer, L.J., Jonsson, P.V., … Ferrucci, L. (2020). Association of dual decline in memory and gait speed with risk for dementia among adults older than 60 years: A multicohort individual-level meta-analysis. JAMA Network Open, 3(2), e1921636.