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Here’s the age your ability to walk and talk starts to decline: study

If you can walk the walk, but not walk and talk, you may be suffering from declining brain health.

A new study has found the ability to juggle both tasks starts to diminish almost a decade earlier than previously thought, with researchers saying this struggle may be a warning sign of dementia.

Scientists from Harvard Medical School and Hebrew SeniorLife found this function drops off by age 55 and should be “routinely monitored starting in middle age” — instead of beginning at 65 — to prevent falls and injuries.

“We assessed a large number of individuals between the ages of 40 and 64 years, and observed that the ability to walk under normal, quiet conditions remained relatively stable across this age range,” lead researcher Junhong Zhou said in a statement.

“However, even in this relatively healthy cohort, when we asked participants to walk and perform a mental arithmetic task at the same time, we were able to observe subtle yet important changes in gait starting in the middle of the sixth decade of life.”

The study suggests not being able to walk and talk at the same time may be a warning sign of slipping brain health.
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Researchers observed 640 Spaniards trying to multitask between May 2018 and July 2020. The study was published online last week in The Lancet Healthy Longevity.

“The performance of dual-tasking, in the fields of neurology and aging, is an important marker of brain health,” Zhou explained.

“This age-related decline of dual-task walking may indicate, at a much earlier age, when interventions should start.”

Researchers have blamed declining cognition and memory on shrinkage of the frontal lobe and hippocampus and a slowdown in the production of chemical messengers in the brain as people age.

Zhou noted there were some bright spots in the findings.

“We observed a portion of participants over the age of 60 who performed the dual task test as well as participants aged 50 or even younger. This means that dual-task walking performance does not necessarily decline as we get older, and that some individuals appear more resistant to the effects of aging,” Zhou said.

He added: “We hope our study will spur future research to discover lifestyle and other modifiable factors that support the maintenance of dual task performance into old age, as well as interventions that target these factors.”

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