LONDON, ONT. -- Researchers at the Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University are the first to study the way older adults walk in order to more accurately diagnose different types of dementia and Alzheimer's.

If you are an older adult, the way you put one foot in front of the other may be giving you a clue as to whether or not you are experiencing cognitive decline, and what type.

“We have longstanding evidence showing that cognitive problems, such as poor memory and executive dysfunction, can be predictors of dementia. Now, we’re seeing that motor performance, specifically the way you walk, can help diagnose different types of neurodegenerative conditions,” says Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso, scientist at Lawson and professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, in a release.

The study compared gait impairments in people with subjective cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s sisease, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia, as well as cognitively healthy controls.

Four independent patterns were identified: rhythm, pace, variability and postural control.

Only high gait variability was associated with lower cognitive performance and it identified Alzheimer’s disease with 70 per cent accuracy.

“This is the first strong evidence showing that gait variability is an important marker for processes happening in areas of the brain that are linked to both cognitive impairment and motor control,” notes Dr. Frederico Perruccini-Faria, research assistant at Lawson.

You can read the full study here.