Feeling the need to walk a little slower may simply mean that a patient may be feeling a little older or weaker, but a sudden slowing down may signal other physical or cognitive problems. It can be a smart idea to talk to your primary care provider or a home health provider from Accredited Home Care.
The home health provider will be in a good position to observe a patient’s mental and physical behavior, including their balance, gait and mental state.
If the home care provider has concerns, they are encouraged to share their observations with the patient’s primary medical provider who may want to examine them further.
This is because continuing research into how the brain and body perform may indicate connections between changes in walking habits and the onset of some forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Defining walking speed and impairment
Some of the current thinking about possible links between slower walking speeds and changing mental states appeared in a 2015 article in Neurology, a publication of the American Academy of Neurology.
The article followed 128 people with an average age of 76. They didn’t have dementia at the beginning of the piece but had memory concerns. They were also considered to be at a higher risk of developing dementia, including a larger presence of amyloids, certain proteins that can build up in the brain as Alzheimer’s develops.
People in the study received a series of memory and thinking tests, and 46 percent were said to have mild cognitive impairment.
The test also measured standard walking speed based on their average time to walk 13 feet. Subjects showed an average pace of 3.48 per second. All but two showed that they walked in the normal range for walking speed.
During the study, researchers compared how fast people walked. Testers based the results on the amount of amyloids present. They then compared the results with and without taking the amyloids into account. Those with higher amyloid levels had a difference in speed of up to 9 percent.
Other individual variables, such as a person’s age, education or general memory situation prior to taking part in the study, didn’t seem to influence the study significantly.
In addition to the 2015 study, other research has been performed into whether changes in gait or physical stature can indicate mental or health changes.
A study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the National Institutes of Health and U.S. National Library of Medicine, showed that the preferred walking speed for seniors is based on their brains functioning well and good control of their bodies.
Likewise, gait problems that develop could indicate a loss of control of either of these areas.
For instance, at a physical level, patients may become slower and more concerned about the risk of uncontrolled falling. There’s also the possibility of increasing weakness in hips or knees from arthritis or other joint ailments.
They are more likely to walk with their hands out ready to catch themselves if they do fall, but this isn’t necessarily related to cognitive problems. They may also use canes, walkers or other assistive devices to help keep their balance.
Mental influences on walking speed and gait can come from not just advancing dementia conditions but some medications or other neurological conditions such as sedatives.
Strokes can also affect both the mental and physical aspects of walking, often causing slower speeds.
Overall, gait disorders are more likely as someone ages: there’s a 10 percent chance by age 60-69, which grows to 60 percent over 80 years old.
People or caregivers who are concerned about gait changes are encouraged to discuss the matter with their primary provider, who can perform neurological, physical or orthopedic exams if needed.
How home health care can help
A regular visit from a home health care professional can be a useful way to assess the progress of someone’s walking and walking speed.
For instance, there could be physical reasons which could cause something to change, such as strained muscles or fatigue.
One of the NCBI studies indicates that psychological aspects also can play a role, especially someone with mental health issues such as depression. Since depression can increase as people age, some may lack the desire to get up and walk around. But people who do stop walking regularly have a greater risk of falling. Knowing this, they also could be more fearful and anxious, which could also impact their gait by making them walk more consciously and maybe even starting to lose their general desire to walk.
On a neurological level, some people showing increasing levels of dementia may actually begin to walk slower or faster, either of which can increase the risk of falling and injury.
In-home care can provide regular check-in to assess a patient’s mental and physical abilities. Providers can also offer emotional support and socialization which is also important to keep people from feeling lonely and losing motivation. Assistance with meal planning and even occasional transportation can also brighten a patient’s day and encourage them to walk.
Therapy services can also help with physical and occupational support, including offering assistance with walking, especially in stroke situations.Overall, it’s pretty much expected that we slow down as we get older. But it’s not always easy to know what’s causing the decline. Accredited Home Care can provide information on walking resources.