Mind and Body

Walking Speed and Hand Grip in Middle Age Associated with Dementia

Researchers say that looking at how fast an older patient walks and how strong the person's grip is may help doctors predict who is at risk for age-related dementia.

Photo of older woman walking outdoors

Researchers at Boston Medical Center tested the walking speed, hand grip strength, and cognitive function of more than 2,400 people, who had an average age of 62. The participants also underwent brain scans.

The study participants were followed for 11 years. In that time, 34 people developed dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, and 70 had a stroke.

Slower walk, higher risk

People who had a slower walking speed at the start of the study were 1.5 times more likely to develop dementia than those with a faster walking speed.

People ages 65 and older who had stronger hand grip strength at the start of the study had a 42 percent lower risk for stroke or mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack) than those with weaker hand grip strength.

Researchers did not see this difference in people younger than 65.

"Further research is needed to understand why this is happening and whether preclinical disease could cause slow walking and decreased strength," says study author Erica Camargo, M.D.

Smaller volume

Dr. Camargo and her colleagues also found that people with a slower walking speed had less total cerebral brain volume and performed poorly on memory, language and decision-making tests. Those with a stronger hand grip had larger total cerebral brain volume and better results on brain functioning tests.

Experts say the study findings might be valuable in assessing patient risk of developing dementia in later life.

"It is unclear why there is such a correlation between walking speed and hand grip on these disease processes," says Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Yet they are two simple tests that can give us a pre-clinical clue as to what we might expect, and enable us to implement prevention."

The study is to be presented at an upcoming meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

Arthritis Foundation - Fitness

CDC - How much physical activity do older adults need?

National Institute on Aging - Exercise

April 2012

For Seniors: Easy Ways to Exercise

Exercise actually comes in many forms, including activities that feel more like fun than hard work:

  • Dance. Sign up for a dance class with your spouse or a friend or carve out some dance time at home.

  • Go bowling. Join a bowling league or make a weekly date with some of your friends. If you have grandchildren, bring them along.

  • Rediscover a favorite sport. Whether you love the elegance of golf or the challenge of tennis, make time for these leisure activities. If possible, vary your activities over the course of each week to work different muscle groups.

  • Enjoy the great outdoors. When the weather cooperates, ride your bike, visit a local park for a hike, or simply go for a walk. These are all great exercises that get you outside and into the fresh air.

  • Get in the swim. Swimming is an excellent exercise choice, particularly if you have arthritis joint pain. Join a local fitness center with a pool and work in regular swims to meet your cardiovascular needs without straining your joints.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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