Walking speed in golden years could be a sign of thinking or memory problems

University of Portland study looked at people 70 and older, tested their memory, walking pace

Older adults were less likely than younger adults to meet the federal physical activity recommendations. (Pierre Amerlynck/SXC)

Older adults might want to talk to their doctors about their walking speed.

A new study by the University of Portland suggests how fast people walk later in life could be a sign thinking and memory problems.

University of Portland researchers studied 92 people that were 70 years or older and who lived alone. They were given memory and thinking tests and also had their walking speeds monitored over the course of three years.

Results of the study showed that people with non-memory mild cognitive impairment were nine times more likely to be slow walkers than moderate or fast walkers.

Dr. Ronan Factora, a geriatrician at Cleveland Clinic, was not part of the study, but said people should talk to their doctor about their walking.

"If you find that your walking is slower or someone else tells you you're walking a lot slower than usual, you've been slowing down over the years, that's something to tell your doctor and that may be a clue, an indicator that you really should look a little more deeply, is there something going on with cognitive functioning?" said Factora.

Researchers say that more studies are needed, but walking speed could be a predictor of future memory loss and thinking problems in adults over the age of 70.

"These earlier clues that gait problems are associated with cognitive impairment have been studied and recognized for a long time. This is probably one of the longest studies of data gathered at home where that association is actually firmed up," said Factora.

The findings for this study are in the journal Neurology.