Walking slowly, when combined with memory problems, could be an early sign of dementia risk, says new study.

A study of 128 people with an average age of 76 looked at brain scans in combination with their walking speed and found the 48% of those who had a build-up of protein in their brains – a classic sign of Alzheimer’s disease – many were also more likely to have a slower walking speed.

Study participants were measured using a standard test that times how fast a person can cover 13 feet at normal pace. The average walking speed was 3.48 feet per second.

‘It’s possible that having subtle walking disturbances in addition to memory concerns may signal Alzheimer’s disease, even before people show any clinical symptoms,’ says lead researcher Dr Natalia del Campo, from Toulouse University Hospital in France.

Researchers believe checking the walking speed of someone with dementia could be added to the various checks used to detect dementia alongside memory tests.

Louise Walker of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Research has already shown that people with Alzheimer’s disease may have difficulties with walking - but it is unclear if this is due to the condition itself or other factors, especially those associated with ageing.

‘More long-term research is needed to determine whether a build-up of the protein amyloid, which is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, directly leads to slower walking and whether this could form a suitable part of a clinician’s diagnostic process.’

For more information on the early signs and symptoms of dementia, click here.