Determining a middle-age individual’s risk for dementia may be as simple as timing walking speed and assessing hand grip strength.

New research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting showed that these tests can be predictive.

“These are basic office tests which can provide insight into risk of dementia and stroke and can be easily performed by a neurologist or general practitioner,” said Erica C. Camargo, MD, MSc, PhD, with Boston Medical Center.

In the study, more than 2,400 men and women with an average age of 62 underwent tests for walking speed, hand grip strength and cognitive function. At the same time, brain imaging studies were also performed.

During the follow-up period of up to 11 years, 34 people developed dementia and 70 people had a stroke.
The study found people with a slower walking speed in middle age were one-and-a-half times more likely to develop dementia compared to people with faster walking speed.

Strength appears predictive among older individuals as stronger hand grip strength was associated with a 42 percent lower risk of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) in people over age 65.

This was not the case, however, for people in the study under age 65.

“While frailty and lower physical performance in elderly people have been associated with an increased risk of dementia, we weren’t sure until now how it impacted people of middle age,” said Camargo.

Investigators discovered that slower walking speed is linked to lower total cerebral brain volume and poorer performance on memory, language and decision-making tests.

Furthermore, stronger hand grip strength was correlated with larger total cerebral brain volume as well as better performance on cognitive tests asking people to identify similarities among objects.

Investigators say that additional research is necessary to determine how and why the relationships exist.

“Further research is needed to understand why this is happening and whether preclinical disease could cause slow walking and decreased strength,” said Camargo.

Source: American Academy of Neurology