Decline in Physical Abilities Linked to Increased Risk for Dementia Among 90 Year Olds, Study Finds

Poor Balance and Poor Ability to Walk or Stand up from a Chair Associated with Dementia, Study Finds (Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)A new study published in the Archives of Neurology, a journal of the American Medical Association, as found that among people age 90 and older, poor ability to walk, stand up, maintain balance, and perform other physical tasks was associated with significantly higher odds of dementia.

Previous studies have suggested a relationship between poor physical performance and cognitive impairment in younger elderly populations, according background in the study report. However, people age 90 and older had not previously been well studied, according to the authors.

The study conducted by Szofia S. Bullain, M.D., and colleagues from the University of California, Irvine, appears in the October 22, 2012 online edition of the Archives of Neurology, a journal of the American Medical Association.

This study was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging.

The Study; Method

The study included 629 participants from a 90+ Study on aging and dementia performed at the University of California from January 2003 through November 2009. On average, the study participants were 94 years old, and 72.5 percent of them were women.

The participants underwent tests as to their ability to perform various physical tasks, including ability to walk four meters, stand up from a seated position in a chair five times, maintain balance while standing, and demonstrate grip strength. Their performance on each of these tests was scored from 0 to 4 (with 0 meaning unable to perform, and 4 meaning best performance).

They were also examined for presence of dementia (including all types/ causes of dementia), with the diagnosis based on the criteria set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition).

The researchers than analyzed and performed statistical analysis to estimate the participants’ odds of having dementia in relation to their physical performance measures, after adjustment for age and sex.


“Our cross-sectional study found a strong dose-dependent association between poor physical performance and dementia in the oldest old, with higher odds of dementia associated with poorer physical performance,” the authors wrote.

“The results reveal that even modest declines in physical performance are associated with increased odds of dementia. The strongest association is seen with gait slowing, followed by five chair stands, grip strength and standing balance.”

According to the study results, for every one unit decrease in a physical performance score, the odds ratios of having dementia were 2.1 for a four-meter walk, 2.1 for chair stands, 1.9 for standing balance and 1.7 for grip strength.

Participants who were unable to walk (score of 0) “were almost 30 times more likely to have dementia than people with the fastest walking time,” the researchers reported.

Even minimal slowing in the walking speed (less than or equal to 1.5 seconds, from score 4 to score 3) was associated with four times greater odds of dementia, the authors found.

Conclusions; Implications

“In summary, similar to younger elderly populations, our study found that poor physical performance is associated with increased odds of dementia in the oldest old,” the authors concluded.

“The establishment of this association may serve as a major stepping stone to further investigate whether poor physical performance is in the causal pathway and a potentially modifiable risk factor for late-age dementia,” the authors wrote.

More Information

The study was published online in the October 22, 2012 issue of the Archives of Neurology, doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.583., a journal of the American Medical Association.

For more information on Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Alzheimer’s/ Dementia, including:

For information on healthy exercise, diet, and other lifestyle factors that promote wellness and prevent diseases, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors & Caregivers, including:


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