Lower levels of physical performance associated with increased risk of dementia in older adults

Poor physical function may be associated with an increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer's disease in elderly adults, according to a report in the May 22 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Both physical performance and cognitive (thinking, learning and memory) ability tend to decline with age, often as a result of age-related diseases, according to background information in the article. Some studies have shown a link between physical and cognitive decline but few have examined how physical performance is linked to the development of dementia or the intermediate stage known as cognitive impairment. "Identifying signs associated with progression to dementia would assist in predicting the development of dementia and has important implications for interventions to slow the progression to these devastating illnesses," the authors write.

Li Wang, M.S., VA Puget Sound Health Care System, University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues studied 2,288 individuals age 65 years and older who did not have dementia at the beginning of the study. Between 1994 and 1996, participants underwent initial testing to determine their cognitive abilities, which were scored on a scale from zero to 100. They also performed four established tests of physical function: a timed, 10-foot walk; a chair-stand test, timing participants as they stood from a seated position five times; a standing balance assessment; and a measurement of grip strength in the dominant hand. Each individual was given a score of zero to four on each test, with four representing the highest level of functioning; those scores were added to obtain a total physical performance score of up to 16. Participants were then assessed every other year through October 2003 for the development of dementia.

At the beginning of the study, those with lower physical performance scores also had lower cognitive scores. During the six years of follow-up, 319 participa

Contact: Clare Hagerty
JAMA and Archives Journals

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