Poor walking and weak hand grip may signal early dementia

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A recent study from Monash University has highlighted the potential of using walking speed and grip strength as early predictions of dementia.

This innovative research, which analyzed data from over 18,000 adults primarily aged 70 and older participating in the ASPREE trial, found that slower walking speeds and weaker hand grips together offer a stronger prediction of cognitive decline and dementia than either measure alone.

The participants, who were initially healthy, were observed over a nearly five-year period.

The results were striking: those with both poor gait speed and grip strength had a 79% higher risk of developing dementia and a 43% increase in the risk of cognitive decline compared to their counterparts.

Moreover, the risk escalated to 89% for dementia and 55% for cognitive decline when both gait and grip weakened simultaneously during the study.

This research marks the first time the combined impact of these two physical measures on cognitive function has been thoroughly investigated.

Out of the study’s participants, 2,773 experienced cognitive decline, and 558 were diagnosed with dementia, underscoring the significant potential of these findings for early diagnosis and intervention.

Dr. Suzanne Orchard, the study’s lead author and a Senior Research Fellow at Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, emphasized the importance of understanding the connection between physical and cognitive decline with age.

She suggested that simple tests for grip strength and walking speed could be utilized by general practitioners and healthcare providers to detect early dementia risk and initiate treatment strategies to slow the disease’s progression and manage symptoms effectively.

Given the projected tripling of global dementia cases by 2050, from 57.4 million in 2019 to an estimated 152.8 million, the implications of these findings are profound.

Early detection and intervention could significantly improve quality of life for individuals at risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

This research, derived from the comprehensive ASPREE—ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly—clinical trial, underscores the potential of accessible physical assessments in identifying early signs of cognitive decline.

As dementia remains without a cure, strategies for early identification and management are crucial in mitigating the impact of this growing global health concern.

The research findings can be found in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring.

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