Frailty associated with greater dementia risk

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By Philip Tubby | Thursday 16 November 2017

Researchers at the University College of London (UCL) have studied the effect of frailty on the risk of developing dementia.

The study found an association between an increase in frailty and an increased likelihood of developing dementia. Their findings are reported in the scientific publication, Scientific Reports.

Researchers took a total of 8,722 older adults as part of The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and used at least 30 out of 47 health markers including the ability to carry out daily tasks, cardiovascular disease, eyesight and self-rated general health to determine a ‘frailty’ score. Participants were put into three groups, – non-frail, pre-frail and frail – based on their score.

Participants of the study were followed every two years and were also asked to report whether they had had a diagnosis of dementia. Researchers followed up all participants until a diagnosis of dementia was made, or until the participant died or left the study.

Results found that frailty was higher in older, poorer females with no educational qualifications. Researchers considered age, education and wealth as part of their analysis, and found that although small, there was an increased risk of dementia associated with an increased frailty. People between the ages of 50-70 showed a steady increase in dementia risk and although the influence was small, researchers found increased frailty increased the rate at which people developed dementia.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:

“The frailty score used for this study encompasses many health markers and unravelling the effects of multiple health problems is very difficult to do. Dementia is not limited to memory problems and manifests in many ways, including reduced visual perception, so many markers used in this study to assess frailty could also be early indicators of dementia. The study cannot tell us whether the onset of dementia causes an individual to become frailer or whether increased frailty can contribute to the start of dementia, particularly as the researchers did not make a formal assessment of whether participants had dementia. Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia, and this research is an important reminder that many people living with dementia are also living with a range of health problems that can exacerbate the impact of the condition.

“An individual’s risk of developing dementia is influenced by a complex mix of age, genes and lifestyle. Currently the best evidence is that a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, only drinking in moderation and keeping weight, blood pressure and cholesterol in check all help maintain a healthy brain in later life. Research to better understand the underlying causes of dementia is essential to speed up the hunt for life-changing treatments for the 850,000 in the UK living with the condition.”

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Philip Tubby