Step lively! Fast walking speed and a strong grip in middle age may help predict dementia risk

Middle-aged people who walk slowly and have a poor grip could be at greater risk of dementia or stroke in later life, researchers have warned.

Simple tests of physical ability may give clues as to who is most likely to go on to develop disorders such as Alzheimer’s and, to a lesser extent, suffer a stroke, they say.

Their study involved monitoring more than 2,400 participants with an average age of 62 over 11 years.

Tight grip: Research has found that simple tests on things like how fast a person walks may help doctors determine how likely that person might suffer dementia or a stroke

Tight grip: Research has found that simple tests on things like how fast a person walks may help doctors determine how likely that person might suffer dementia or a stroke

Those with a slower walking speed were
found to be one and a half times more likely to develop dementia over
the age of 65 compared with those who were more speedy.

People with a stronger grip had a 42
per cent lower risk of stroke or a mini-stroke – known as a transient
ischemic attack (TIA) – over the age of 65, although the risk was not
cut at younger ages.

Lead researcher Dr Erica Camargo said
this level of testing could be routinely carried out by primary care
physicians and GPs. ‘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,’ she added.

Participants in the U.S. study were tested for walking speed, hand grip strength and cognitive function, and had brain scans.

During the follow-up period, 34 people developed dementia and 70 people had a stroke.

A scan showing a healthy brain (above) and one (below) revealing the warning signs of Alzheimer's in red. Researchers in Boston are looking at new tests to find out if a person is more likely to suffer from the disease (file picture)

A scan showing a healthy brain (above) and one (below) revealing the warning signs of Alzheimer's in red. Researchers in Boston are looking at new tests to find out if a person is more likely to suffer from the disease (file picture)

Dr Camargo, of Boston Medical Centre,
said: ‘While frailty and lower physical performance in elderly people
have been associated with an increased risk of dementia, we weren’t sure
how it impacted people of middle age.’

Researchers also found that slower
walking speed was associated with lower total cerebral brain volume –
fewer ‘grey’ cells and poorer performance on memory, language and
decision-making tests. Stronger grip strength was associated with
larger total cerebral brain volume as well as better performance on
cognitive tests asking people to identify similarities among objects.

‘Further research is needed to
understand why this is happening and whether preclinical disease could
cause slow walking and decreased strength,’ added Dr Camargo.

Dr Anne Corbett, of the Alzheimer’s
Society, said: ‘Before people take stock in the strength of a handshake
or the speed you cross the road, more research is needed to understand
why and what other factors are involved.

‘The good news is that there are many things to reduce your risk of developing dementia.

‘We recommend you eat a healthy
balanced diet, don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight, take regular
exercise, and get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked
regularly.’

The research was presented yesterday
at the American Academy of Neurology’s 64th annual meeting in New
Orleans. Some 820,000 people are affected by dementia in the UK.

Pugh