Lower Handgrip Strength Associated with Cognitive Impairment

hand strengthOlder adults with a weaker handgrip were more likely to be cognitively impaired than those with a stronger grip, according to an NIA-funded study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The findings suggest that handgrip strength may be a potential low-cost, easy way to help detect cognitive impairment and, in combination with other measures, to identify people who may benefit from early interventions.

A team led by researchers from North Dakota State University looked at data over an eight-year period from almost 14,000 people, age 50 or older, in the NIA-supported Health and Retirement Study. A handheld instrument called a dynamometer was used to assess handgrip strength, and a modified screening tool from the Mini-Mental State Examination 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.

Results showed that each 5-kilogram decrease in handgrip strength — roughly 11 pounds — was linked to 10% greater odds of having any cognitive impairment. For the 264 participants with severe cognitive impairment, the odds of a lower grip strength were 18% greater than for all other participants.

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, the researchers note. The neural and motor functions needed for the grip strength test may become compromised when cognitive impairment starts, they explain.

Previous studies investigating the relationship between cognitive function and grip strength have shown mixed results, likely due to smaller numbers of participants and varied assessments across studies making it difficult to

Read more: Lower Handgrip Strength Associated with Cognitive Impairment

How to Share Caregiving Responsibilities with Family Members Near and Far

Caring for an older family member often requires teamwork. While one sibling might be local and take on most of the everyday caregiving responsibilities, a long-distance caregiver can also care for parentshave an important role.

As a long-distance caregiver, you can provide important respite to the primary caregiver and support to the aging family member.

Talk About Caregiving Responsibilities

First, try to define the caregiving responsibilities. You could start by setting up a family meeting and, if it makes sense, include the care recipient in the discussion. This is best done when there is not an emergency. A calm conversation about what kind of care is wanted and needed now, and what might be needed in the future, can help avoid a lot of confusion.

Decide who will be responsible for which tasks. Many families find the best first step is to name a primary caregiver, even if one is not needed immediately. That way the primary caregiver can step in if there is a crisis.

Agree in advance how each of your efforts can complement one another so that you can be an effective team. Ideally, each of you will be able to take on tasks best suited to your skills or interests.

Consider Your Strengths When Sharing Caregiving Responsibilities

When thinking about who should be responsible for what, start with your strengths. Consider what you are particularly good at and how those skills might help in the current situation:

  • Are you good at finding information, keeping people up-to-date on changing conditions, and offering cheer, whether on the phone or with a computer?
  • Are you good at supervising and leading others?
  • Are you comfortable speaking with medical staff and interpreting what they say to others?
  • Is your strongest suit doing the numbers—paying bills, keeping track of bank statements, and reviewing insurance policies and reimbursement reports?
  • Are you the one in the family who can fix anything, while no one else knows the difference between pliers and a wrench?

Read more: How to Share Caregiving Responsibilities with Family Members Near and Far

How to Build a Better Brain

You have heard about building a better mousetrap. How about building a better thought-trap? The brain we are born with is not necessarily the brain you have all your life. If that sounds like someone has lost a few brain cells, read on to find out how you can fight cognitive decline.

“We’re having a brain-health revolution.” So says Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. Dr. Chapman believes we have entered a new age of understanding brain health that is benefitting brain research and giving hope to those of us who are aging — which is all of us.

The brain we are born with is constantly developing neurons and neural connections, and that means it is possible to turn back the clock on aging, even for people with mild cognitive problems. With certain lifestyle modifications, people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) showed significant improvement on abilities that decline with age, such as planning, judgment, and processing speed. Studies show that people with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, so reducing MCI can help prevent — or at least slow down the progression of — Alzheimer’s.

Since there is evidence that it is possible to delay or avoid “senior moments” and age-related memory loss, you are probably anxious to learn the strategies for building that better brain.

Dietary changes include drinking more water and eating healthier foods. The brain is composed of 80% water (Doesn’t it feel like it sometimes?). So dehydration is detrimental to brain health. Drink more water! Inflammation can affect those little gray cells, so eat more plant foods, healthy fats, and omega-3s, and less saturated fats and processed foods.

Take heart — and get it pumping with periods of heart-pumping activity, like a short walk or bike ride. This produces chemicals that help grow and protect brain cells. And, keep that blood pressure down!

After all that exercise, get plenty of sleep. While you rest, your system flushes toxins, so if you have sleep problems, consult your physician.

Mental exercise is valuable as well. Find a way to meditate and practice mindfulness. There are also programs that sharpen attention, reasoning, and creative thinking skills.

So, use the brain you were born with, and don’t forget to keep it growing and glowing with health!

South Mountain Memory Care focuses on high-quality, personalized care. The brand new building is a stand-alone memory care community, meaning that the entire building, staff and programs are designed to serve residents with cognitive issues. To ensure person-centered care and attention, we have accommodations for up to 28 residents. The building is divided into two neighborhoods (wings), each offering 10 private suites and 2 semi-private suites. South Mountain Memory Care is located in the Allentown suburb of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, and it is easily accessible from the Lehigh Valley, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. For more information, go to http://www.southmountainmemorycare.com/

Caregivers and Exercise - Take Time for Yourself

Are you a caregiver providing support for a spouse, friend, or relative? Even if your loved one is well cared for in memory care or assisted living facility, your responsibilities can take a toll on your health. 

Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver. Make sure you are making time for yourself, eating healthy foods, and being active. Finding some time for regular exercise can be very important to your overall physical and mental well-being.

Physical activity can help reduce feelings of depression and stress and help you improve your health and prevent chronic diseases. Learn more about how exercise can help older adults.

Here are some ways for caregivers to be physically active:

  • Take exercise breaks throughout the day. Try three 10-minute “mini-workouts” instead of 30 minutes all at once.
  • Make an appointment with yourself to exercise. Set aside specific times and days of the week for physical activity.
  • Exercise with a friend and get the added benefit of emotional support.
  • Ask for help at home so you can exercise.

Read more: Caregivers and Exercise - Take Time for Yourself

Study Finds Memory Testing Needs Adjusting According to Gender

A new study has shown that because women normally score higher than men on tests of verbal memory, they may not be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment as early as men. This can give many women a later start than they need in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. Even when they have the same levels of Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes, such as the amount of amyloid plaque deposits in the brain or the amount of shrinkage in the hippocampus area of the brain, they are often not diagnosed accurately.

Using gender-specific scores on memory tests may change who gets diagnosed with "pre-dementia", or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI, a precursor to dementia, is when people have problems with memory and thinking skills. The difference may be as high as 20%, with possibly more women and fewer men being diagnosed, according to a study published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Read more: Study Finds Memory Testing Needs Adjusting According to Gender

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