As researchers learn more about the pathology of dementia, they are looking more into which factors result in the disease and its symptoms. A recent study published in The Lancet Neurology journal found a correlation between high levels of frailty and dementia-related changes in the brain.
Learn more about frailty as a risk factor for dementia and its impact on dementia research.
Frailty: A Risk Factor for Dementia
A new study involving more than 450 adults ages 59 and older in Illinois found that frailty may increase the risk of dementia. Study participants did not have the disease upon their enrollment and participated in annual mental and physical health assessments. Additionally, participants agreed to have their brains examined after death for brain plaques and tangles. By their last assessment, 53% of the study participants were diagnosed with possible or probable dementia.
For the study, researchers created a “frailty index” that included 41 factors, like:
- Heart problems
- Joint problems
- The ability to prepare meals
Researchers found that those with higher levels of frailty were more likely to have both dementia-related brain changes and symptoms of the disease, while others demonstrated substantial brain changes. Participants who were not frail (scoring lower on the ‘frailty’ index) had significantly fewer symptoms of the disease.
Researchers accounted for age, gender, educational levels and other risk factors, concluding that there is a correlation between frailty and dementia. The study did not establish a causal relationship and researchers stopped short of claiming that frailty can cause symptoms of dementia.
Dr. Kenneth Rockwood, leader of the study and professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, summed up the study, saying:
“By reducing an individual’s physiological reserve, frailty could trigger the clinical expression of dementia when it might remain asymptomatic in someone who is not frail. This indicates that a ‘frail’ brain might be more susceptible to neurological problems like dementia as it is less able to cope with the pathological burden.”
Researchers are hopeful that future studies will examine the relationships between biomarkers, cognition and frailty that are linked to dementia.
Have you seen a correlation between frailty and dementia in a parent? Is there another risk factor that you are concerned about in a senior loved one? We’d like to hear your stories and thoughts in the comments below.