Handgrip strength can accurately predict a cognitive decline in senior citizens, according to a recent National Institute of Aging study. Results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Older adults with a weaker handgrip were more likely to be cognitively impaired than those with a stronger grip. These findings suggest that handgrip strength may be a potential low-cost, easy way to help detect cognitive impairment. And, it could be an easy way to help these people with early interventions.
Handgrip: Study Results
A team led by researchers from North Dakota State University evaluated data over an eight-year period from 14,000 seniors, aged 50 and older. A handheld instrument called a dynamometer was used to assess handgrip strength, and a screening tool was used to measure cognitive function every two years. Of the 13,828 participants who were assessed, 1,309 had some degree of cognitive impairment.
The results showed that each 5-kilogram decrease in handgrip strength — roughly 11 pounds — was linked to a10% greater risk of cognitive impairment. For the 264 participants with severe cognitive impairment, the risk of a lower grip strength were 18% greater than for all other participants.
Handgrip: What These Results Mean
As people age, they lose muscle mass, resulting in a weaker grip. Grip strength also can weaken due to age-related changes in parts of the brain that coordinate movement. These same areas of the brain also correspond to cognition, learning, and memory. The neural and motor functions needed for the grip strength test may become compromised when cognitive impairment starts.
Future research will explore the connection between grip strength and cognition, for example, investigating any associations with structural changes in the brain.
Grip strength could be an easy test used by doctors to help distinguish between cognitive dysfunction and normal age-related decline, the researchers noted. It also could be used during clinical trials to measure the effectiveness of different techniques to prevent or delay cognitive impairment.