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Walking is a basic activity that is often undertaken while engaging in other tasks like reading and talking, a phenomenon medically termed dual-task performance. The body naturally begins to struggle with dual-task performance around the age of 65 due to a decline in motor function and balance. Interestingly, remove pills new scientific findings suggest that difficulty walking while talking at a younger age could foreshadow problems in cognition further down the line.
The new research, published in the journal Lancet Healthy Longevity, has reported that struggling to do other tasks while walking at the age of 55 could spell trouble for cognitive health.
This is approximately a decade before “old age”, as traditionally defined by the age of 65 years.
Interestingly, the findings showed that a decline in the ability to walk and talk at the same time appeared not to reflect changes in physical function, but instead shifts in cognition and brain health.
Junhong Zhou, PhD, co-author of the study, explained: “Our results suggest that in middle age, poor dual-task walking performance might be an indicator of accelerated brain ageing or another pre-symptomatic neurodegenerative condition.”
These observations emerged from a study of 996 people, 640 of whom were asked to complete gait and cognitive assessments.
Zhou added: “We assessed a large number of individuals between the ages of 40 and 64 years who are part of a study called the Barcelona Brain Health Initiative.
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“We observed that the ability to walk under normal, quiet conditions remained relatively stable across this age range.
“However, even in this relative health cohort, when we asked participants to walk and at the same time perform a mental arithmetic task, we were able to observe subtle yet important changes in gait starting in the sixth decade of life.
“This means that a simple test of dual-task walking, which probes the brain’s ability to perform two tasks at the same time, can uncover early age-related changes in brain function that may signify an increased risk of developing dementia in later life.”
The doctors explained that as compared to walking quietly, walking under dual-task conditions adds stress to the motor control system.
This is because the two tasks compete for shared resources from the brain.
“What we believe is that the ability to handle this stress and adequately maintain performance in both tasks is a critical brain function that tends to be important because it has been discovered that changes in this type of brain resilience occur much earlier than previously believed,” explained Zhou.
The researcher expressed hope that their study would inspire future research on the modifiable factors that support the maintenance of dual-task performance into old age.
The findings also call for interventions that target these factors specifically, explained the authors of the study.
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