A new study suggests a simple test of physical functioning may be able to help identify individuals who are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and other common age-related neurological diseases.
As people age, there is a decline in physical capability, muscle strength, and balance. Previous studies have shown that slow walking and weak grip strength can be signs that a person is in poor health and can even show that he or she is at high risk for poor health and disability in the future.
Based on this information, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) were interested to learn whether the same measures of slow walking and weak grip could also predict the risk of common age-related neurological diseases.
To do this, they used data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS).
During that study, participants between the ages of 35 and 84 years were asked to walk a certain distance as fast as they could without running, and the time taken to complete the walk was recorded.
Researchers also recorded the participant’s maximum force on an object to estimate their hand-grip strength. These participants were followed for up to 11 years.
After analyzing the results, the researchers found that individuals who had slow walking speeds and weak grip strength had a significant increase in risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Additionally, participants older than 65 had a higher risk of stroke if their hand grip strength was weak.
“These findings suggest that measuring walking speed and hand-grip strength can help predict who is at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. If these findings are confirmed, these measures can serve as additional tools to screen people for stroke or dementia,” said corresponding author Galit Weinstein, Ph.D., an adjunct assistant professor of neurology at BUSM.
While the researchers admit there are limitations to the study — the sample population is overwhelmingly of European ancestry, for instance — the data still showed a “strong association,” according to Weinstein.
“These measures are simple, cheap and easy to perform and therefore could one day be used in any clinical setting,” added Weinstein.
The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Source: Boston University Medical Center