Physically weak and frail older people are at greater risk of getting dementia – even when their brains are ‘relatively healthy’
- One in ten people in a study were diagnosed with dementia despite healthy brain
- Experts believe frailty could reduce people’s tolerance to brain changes
- A healthy diet and exercise to keep the body stronger could help the brain, too
Frail older people are at greater risk of getting dementia, even when their brains are relatively healthy.
Becoming frail in later life may make people more vulnerable to even the slightest brain changes that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
A study of more than 450 older people found the most frail were most in danger of the memory-robbing disease.
Those with low levels of the proteins which build up in the brain and cause dementia are the lucky ones who should be spared from the disease.
But just over one in ten people in the study were diagnosed with dementia despite having a relatively healthy brain.
Becoming frail in later life may make people more vulnerable to even the slightest brain changes that cause Alzheimer’s disease, Canadian researchers found
The answer to why people with apparently healthy brains get dementia appears to be their physical health.
More than two-thirds of people with fairly healthy brains who got dementia were highly frail, compared to just five per cent of very fit pensioners.
Experts now believe frailty could reduce people’s tolerance to brain changes, so that they are more likely to become forgetful.
It could see older people advised to exercise more and change their diet to make them stronger.
Professor Kenneth Rockwood, who led the study from Dalhousie University in Canada, said: ‘People with more frail bodies are more likely to have frail brains, which make it harder to resist the proteins that we know cause Alzheimer’s disease.
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‘This explains why frail people could develop dementia when less frail people with exactly the same build-up of proteins in their brains may have far fewer symptoms and never be diagnosed with dementia at all.’
Scientists have puzzled for decades over why people with little sign of dementia in their brains are diagnosed with it anyway.
To determine the importance of frailty, researchers monitored older people’s self-reported health, walking speed, grip strength and balance.
People’s ability to do simple daily activities like dressing themselves, shopping and preparing meals were assessed.
Health problems like cancer, high blood pressure and osteoporosis were also taken into account among 41 total measures combined in a ‘frailty score’.
Study participants were all dementia-free when the study started, with 53 per cent diagnosed with probable or possible Alzheimer’s disease by its end.
Their brains were examined after their death for levels of amyloid and tau – the proteins which build up in the brain and damage the links between brain cells to cause dementia.
The results show 50 people out of the 456 in the study had Alzheimer’s disease despite few brain changes.
These people had far worse scores for frailty, even when other health problems like heart failure and stroke were taken into account.
People who were frail were most at risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and most at risk of the brain changes which cause it too.
The hope for people at risk of dementia is that staying fit could protect against it, as people who were less frail were more likely to escape dementia despite having signs of it in their brains.
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT ROBS SUFFERERS OF THEIR MEMORIES
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CONCERN
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.
It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Dementia UK
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