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Posted: August 19, 2008

Physical Frailty May be Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

Physical frailty, which tends to become a hallmark of old age, may be related to Alzheimer’s disease, researchers say.


For the study, which was published in the journal Neurology, researchers examined the brains of 165 seniors who took part in a larger study of age-related chronic diseases. Physical frailty measurements were taken yearly and included grip strength, time to walk eight feet, body composition and tiredness. When a participant would die, their brains were checked for the plaques and tangles that are signs of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology.


The researchers found that 36% of the study participants dementia, or showed signs of memory loss. “Interestingly, Alzheimer’s disease pathology was associated with physical frailty in older persons both with and without dementia,” said study author Dr. Aron S. Buchman, with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.


“The level of frailty was approximately two times higher in a person with a high level of AD pathology compared with a person with a low level of AD pathology,” said Buchman. The results remained the same regardless of whether a person had a history of other diseases and regardless of their level of physical activity.


Interestingly, a previous study of the same group of participants suggested that older people who are physically frail with no cognitive impairment appear to be at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s as compared to those who were less frail. “Together, both of these studies suggest that frailty can be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and may appear before memory loss,” Buchman wrote, adding:


“These findings raise the possibility that Alzheimer’s disease may contribute to frailty or that frailty and Alzheimer’s disease share a common cause. We theorize that the accumulation of these plaques and tangles in the brain could affect the areas of the brain responsible for motor skills and simple movements years before the development of dementia.”


Unrelated studies show that about 7% of people over age 65 are considered frail, but that number jumps to 45% after age 85.


The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Robert C. Borwell Endowment Fund.

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