A Simple Physical Test May Be Able to Assess Your Alzheimer’s Risk

A BU study found that walking speed and grip strength were markers of age-related disease.
Boston University School of Medicine image provided

Boston University School of Medicine image provided

It may be possible to predict likelihood of age-related brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, using a simple physical test, according to a new Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) study.

We already know that age leads to a decline in physical functioning. The BUSM researchers, however, wanted to determine whether a dip in basic physical functions—specifically, walking speed and grip strength—could indicate a heightened risk of Alzheimer’s and stroke.

To do so, the research team used data from the Framingham Heart Study, documenting the speed at which a participant between the ages of 35 and 84 could walk without running, and the amount of force (“grip”) he or she could exert on an object. Participants were then monitored for up to 11 years.

They found that those with slow walking speeds and weak grips at the beginning of the study did, indeed, have significantly higher rates of Alzheimer’s and other age-induced neurological diseases later on. Additionally, participants over the age of 65 who had weak grips had far higher rates of brain disease than those with stronger grips.

These findings could serve as a basis for a new physical test to evaluate stroke, Alzheimer’s, and dementia risk, says corresponding author Galit Weinstein in a release. The methods the researchers used are “simple, cheap, and easy to perform,” making them ideal for widespread use in a clinical setting.

One caveat: The Framingham Heart Study is regarded as one of the most comprehensive and reliable patient data sets out there, but most of its subjects are of European descent. Further studies, then, would be needed to evaluate the connection between physical functioning and Alzheimer’s in other populations.


Dana Guth Dana Guth, Digital Intern, Health dguth@bostonmagazine.com