Can slowing and weakening grip be signs of dementia?
We lose muscle mass as we age. Humans lose roughly 10% of their body’s muscular mass by the age of 50. The beginning stages of dementia in elderly individuals may be signaled by a decline in physical strength, according to Edith Cowan University researchers.
We all know that as we age, our muscular mass declines. Grip strength and how quickly and steadily people stand up from a chair are two methods to gauge this.
According to research, people start losing muscle mass in their 30s or 40s, and by the time they are 50, they have lost 10% of their total muscle mass. Then, between 50 and 70, we lose an additional 30% of our muscular mass.
Dementia is a broad term for illnesses that affect a person’s cognitive function. Now, researchers from Edith Cowan University in Australia have discovered evidence suggesting a loss of muscle strength may be a signal for older people getting dementia.
Timed Up and Go (TUG) and grip strength were utilized by the researchers as indicators of muscle strength.
Why measure grip strength?
A grip strength test may be used by medical professionals to assess a patient’s hand and forearm muscle health.
The tool used for this straightforward test is a dynamometer. Simply by squeezing the dynamometer with all of their might while holding it in their palm, the user may measure the amount of force applied.
A person’s grip strength has long been regarded as a diagnostic of their general health. Previous studies have linked diminished grip strength to a higher risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.
Additionally, previous research discovered that grip strength is a good predictor of an ageing person’s health-related quality of life.
What exactly is a TUG test?
Doctors can assess a patient’s mobility and balance using the Timed Up and Go (TUG) exam.
A person is instructed to sit on a typical chair while taking the TUG test. The individual is instructed to stand up, move to a queue approximately 10 feet from the chair, turn around, move back to the chair and then sit back down in it while a medical practitioner measures them with a stopwatch.
The doctor can observe the patient’s gait and examine their mobility to look for postural or balance problems.
The TUG test can typically be completed in 10 seconds or less by most healthy older persons. A person may be at a higher risk of falling if the time is longer than 13.5 seconds.
According to earlier research, the TUG test assesses older persons’ risk of falling and predicts their level of frailty.
Dementia and muscle tone
Dr. Marc Sim, senior research fellow in the Nutrition & Health Innovation Research Institute at Edith Cowan University in Joondalup, Australia, and the study’s first author claims that they chose to look into a connection between muscle function and dementia because existing research indicates significant connections between physical capacity, including muscle mass (e.g. sarcopenia), and cognitive health.
He explained to us, “When considered in the context of dementia, at a community level, the utilisation of quick, affordable, and straightforward tests such as grip strength and TUG are quite appealing.”
This could be used as a screening tool to assist physicians in identifying patients who are most at risk and to facilitate the promotion of primary preventative interventions, like exercise and diet. At the community level, screening for dementia risk is infrequently done, he added.
According to Dr. Sim, the methods they used to assess the muscular function of research participants—grip strength and TUG tests—were chosen because they are both straightforward and simple to carry out and are currently advised as functional tests as part of sarcopenia criteria in Australia.
These tests, which take around 3 minutes to complete by doctors, have extremely strong evidence supporting their ability to predict a variety of unfavorable outcomes in older populations, including falls, fractures, CVD, and mortality.
Dementia risk factors that are significant
More than 1,000 women with an average age of 75 were examined for this study by Dr. Sim and his team using information from the Perth Longitudinal Study of Ageing in Women.
Each lady took the TUG test and had her grip strength evaluated by researchers. After five years, the tests were conducted once more.
The researchers discovered that over the following 15 years, 17% of study participants either experienced a dementia event, such as a dementia-related hospitalization or death.
A study participant developing dementia was shown to be much more likely to have reduced grip strength and slower TUG, according to the research team. In addition, women who performed poorly on the TUG tests and had the weakest grip strength had a twofold increased risk of developing dementia in later life.
Other risk variables like smoking, drinking, and levels of physical activity had no bearing on this.
“I would not say the results are shocking because these functional tests are probably going to give a snapshot of the current health state. Especially because exercise, a major risk factor for dementia, is less likely to be practiced by persons who struggle with everyday routines of life due to physical constraints,” Dr. Sim said.
“What caught my attention was the significant risk of dementia related with functional loss over a five-year period, where individuals who experienced the greatest deterioration were also at the highest risk. This is another crucial topic that clinicians should think about, he continued.
How the loss of grip strength affects cognitive function
After reading this study, Dr. Raphi Wald, a board-certified neuropsychologist at Baptist Health South Florida’s Boca Raton Regional Hospital who was not involved in it, told us that it is helpful in confirming what we already knew and strongly suspected about deteriorating physical and mental abilities.
Before substantial degeneration starts, a number of frequently subclinical signs and symptoms of dementia appear. This is just another indication to physicians that a process might be starting and has to be attended to, he said.
When asked what he would want to see as the next stages for this research, Dr. Wald responded, “I think it would be great to have additional information regarding those people that successfully address their muscle weakness and how much it lessens their risk for dementia once they do so.”
These results are consistent with earlier studies that have shown that grip strength and mobility are correlated with various aspects of cognitive decline in older adults, according to Ryan Glatt, senior brain health coach and director of the FitBrain Programme at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California, who was also not involved in this study.
“Collecting information on strength, gait, and mobility in clinical settings might assist create a comprehensive collection of information that may be useful in predicting the likelihood of dementia. The relationship between these mobility and strength measurements and other facets of brain health would be intriguing,” he continued.
Looking out for indications of cognitive deterioration
We also discussed this research with Dr. William Buxton, a board-certified neurologist who serves as the director of fall prevention and neuromuscular and neurodiagnostic medicine at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre in Santa Monica.
Dr. William Buxton stated, “This study tells us that the extra few minutes to perform some really basic simple testing in the office, even just routine visits, like the Time Up and Go test and testing grip strength, can give us good, scientifically grounded reasons to encourage physical activity.”
Dr. Buxton, who was also not involved in the study, continued, “And for those individuals to pay a little bit closer attention to watching for cognitive decline that we may be able to slow down as a result of paying that extra attention.”
Dr. Buxton stated that he would like to see a comparable study conducted in men as well as research to see whether working out in a group had any further advantages.
“We are aware that persons who maintain their social connections are less likely to encounter cognitive impairments that are either developing or deteriorating. Therefore, I’d be interested to see if group exercise that is linked to social engagement will have additional benefits in addition to those that come from individual exercise,” he continued.
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