"In our study, we used a new technique that included installing infrared sensors in the ceilings of homes, a system designed to detect walking movement in hallways," said study author Hiroko Dodge from Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
"By using this new monitoring method, we were able to get a better idea of how even subtle changes in walking speed may correlate with the development of MCI," said Dodge, the journal Neurology reports.
The study involved 93 people aged 70 or older who lived alone. Of those, 54 participants had no cognitive impairment, 31 had non-memory related MCI and eight had memory-related MCI, according to an Oregon Health statement.
Participants were given memory and thinking tests and had their walking speed monitored at their homes unobtrusively over a three-year period.
Participants were placed in groups of slow, moderate or fast based on their average weekly walking speed and how much their walking speed fluctuated at home.
The study found that people with non-memory related MCI were nine times more likely to be slow walkers than moderate or fast walkers and the amount of the fluctuation in walking speed was also associated with MCI.
"Further studies need to be done using larger groups of participants to determine whether walking speed and its fluctuations could be a predictor of future memory and thinking problems in the elderly," said Dodge.