Older adults with strong grip, good memory may avoid or delay disability

Older adults with strong grip, good memory may avoid or delay disability

As we age, we may develop certain disabilities that make it difficult to walk, climb, balance, or maintain our fine motor skills. In turn, these changes can affect our ability to perform routine, daily tasks, which can lead to a loss of independence and reduced quality of life. However, experts say that it is often possible to treat these difficulties before they lead to disability.

For example, having good muscle strength helps us maintain the ability to function well. Research suggests that a minimum level of strength is needed for good physical function. The stronger older adults are, the better able they may be to prevent future disability.

To learn more about how and whether being strong can ward off disability, a team of researchers examined information from a study called SHARE. It involved a survey of people aged 50 and older across most European Union countries and Israel every two years. This survey collected information about health, social and economic status, and participants’ social and family networks. A total of 30,434 people participated in this survey. The research team who studied the information from SHARE published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers looked at the survey participants’ answers to ten questions about their ability to:

  • Walk 100 meters (328 feet)
  • Sit for approximately 2 hours
  • Get up from a chair after sitting for long periods
  • Climb several flights of stairs without resting
  • Climb one flight of stairs without resting, stooping, kneeling, or crouching
  • Reach or extend their arms above shoulder level
  • Pull or push large objects such as a living room chair
  • Lift or carry weights over 10 pounds
  • Pick up a small coin from a table

Answers to all ten questions were collected five different times. The researchers examined the effects of grip strength and cognition–the ability to remember, think, and make decisions–and how those affected the participants over time. The researchers learned that maintaining grip strength and protecting mental ability might prevent or delay disability.

The researchers suggested that older adults who perform physical and mental training may be able to slow down their physical decline and potentially prevent future problems such as the loss of independence, reduced quality of life, the likelihood of developing depression and dementia, and even death.

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This summary is from “Weak Grip Strength and Cognition Predict Functional Limitation in Older Europeans.” It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Tong Wang, MS; Yili Wu, PhD; Weilong Li, PhD; Suyun Li, PhD; Yanping Sun, MD; Shuxia Li, PhD; Dongfeng Zhang, MD; and Qihua Tan, PhD.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation’s work, visit http://www.HealthinAgingFoundation.org.

About the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Included in more than 9,000 library collections around the world, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) highlights emerging insights on principles of aging, approaches to older patients, geriatric syndromes, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric diseases and disorders. First published in 1953, JAGS is now one of the oldest and most impactful publications on gerontology and geriatrics, according to ISI Journal Citation Reports®. Visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JGS for more details.

About the American Geriatrics Society

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has–for 75 years–worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.

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