It is well documented that with age, people tend to lose muscle mass. After the age of 30, people start to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade, according to Harvard Health Publishing. While losing muscle mass can cause weakness and affect mobility, a new study showed that it can also indicate the start of dementia in older people.
A new study conducted by researchers from Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia found evidence suggesting that loss of muscle strength could signal the beginning of dementia among older people, according to Medical News Today. Dementia is a term used to describe symptoms impacting cognitive abilities such as memory and thinking. To test muscle strength, researchers measured grip strength and Timed Up and Go (TUG). The study was published in the Journal of Cachexia Sarcopenia and Muscle.
Grip strength is measured using a tool called a dynamometer. For this, the person holds the dynamometer in their hand and squeezes it with all their strength, and the tool measures the amount of force used, according to Medical News Today. For long, grip strength has been considered a biomarker of overall health.
For the TUG test, the person must sit, stand up, walk a line about 10 feet away, turn around, walk back, and sit down again as and when instructed. The movements are recorded using a stopwatch. Most healthy older adults can finish the TUG test in 10 seconds or less. If a person takes more than 13.5 seconds, it may indicate a greater risk of falling, according to Medical News Today.
For this study, the research teams from ECU's Nutrition and Health Innovation Research Institute and Centre for Precision Health used data from the Perth Longitudinal Study of Ageing in Women and examined more than 1000 women with an average age of 75. They collaborated with ith the University of Western Australia to test grip strength and TUG. These tests were repeated after five years to monitor any loss of performance, according to the statement by ECU.
The findings showed that over the next 15 years, about 17 of the women involved in the study had a dementia event, categorised as a dementia-related hospitalisation or death. The study highlighted that lower grip strength and slower TUG were significant risk factors for dementia, independent of genetic risk and lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol intake and physical activity levels, according to the statement.
It was seen that women with the weakest grip strength were more than twice as likely to have a late-life dementia event. Moreover, people who performed the slowest in the TUG test were more than twice as likely to experience dementia than the quickest.
“Incorporating muscle function tests as part of dementia screening could be useful to identify high-risk individuals, who might then benefit from primary prevention programs aimed at preventing the onset of the condition such as a healthy diet and a physically active lifestyle,” said a senior researcher Dr Marc Sim in the statement.