The simple cognitive screening test you can do at home

Mainstream medical research has thrown billions of dollars into two failed “decades of the brain.” Yet, they still have no standard, affordable test to screen for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or dementia.

Instead, doctors often put patients with memory loss through a litany of expensive, invasive diagnostic tests—such as PET scans and spinal taps—to get much-needed answers. Then they draw conclusions about a person’s mental age, or brain age, by looking at a picture, without ever doing any actual clinical assessments, like they are supposed to.

But new research shows there’s an easier, less expensive, and less invasive way to assess cognitive function in older adults. And it involves something you might not ever connect to brain health…

Is your handshake a “limp-fish” or “bone crusher”?

Researchers have long looked at measures of physical strength and coordination, such as your gait (walking ability), as indicators of longevity. In fact, in many studies, a strong gait is the single, strongest predictor of increased lifespan.

And now, researchers are finding that handgrip strength is a strong indicator of cognitive health in older people…

In fact, a new analysis looked specifically at handgrip strength as it relates to cognitive decline in about 17,000 men and women, ages 50 and older.

At the study’s outset, the researchers assessed all the participants’ cognitive function. (They considered a score of 11 or less among people ages 50 to 64 years, and 10 or less among those 65 and older, as “lower” in cognitive status.)

Then, they measured all the participants’ handgrip strength using a dynamometer. And here’s what they found…

  • 48 percent had similar grip strength (“symmetrical”) in both hands
  • 43 percent had significantly greater grip strength (“asymmetrical”) in their dominant hand
  • 9 percent had greater grip strength (“asymmetrical”) in their non-dominant hand

It turns out, handgrip strength strongly corresponded to cognitive status. In fact, compared to participants with a strong, symmetrical grip in both hands…

  • Participants who experienced general grip weakness had a 64 percent increased risk of lower cognitive function.
  • The men and women with “asymmetrical” handgrip strength had a 15 percent increased risk of lower cognitive function.
  • Participants who had weakness and “asymmetrical” handgrip strength had a 95 percent higher risk.
  • Participants who had significantly more weakness in their non-dominant hand had a staggering 110 percent higher risk!

So, clearly, handgrip weakness and asymmetrical hand strength are big predictors of cognitive decline. Which makes sense, as previous studies have indicated that imbalances in muscle strength could be linked to neurological deficits.

One step forward, two steps back

A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) said the findings are “intriguing.” But, in the next breath, backpedaled to say more research is needed.

Well, what a surprise.

More mealy-mouthed pronouncements from the organization that’s supposed to be leading the way in finding a cure for AD.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait around for the AA to actually recommend this kind of simple, inexpensive screening test. I encourage you to simply ask your doctor about it. (Some good health practitioners already measure handgrip strength—typically to assess muscle function.)

In the meantime, you can also test your handgrip strength at home with a partner. If you detect weakness or asymmetry, make sure to bring it up with your doctor at your next visit. (And bring a printout of this study, listed at the bottom of this Dispatch for reference.)

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“Handgrip Strength Asymmetry and Weakness Are Associated with Lower Cognitive Function: A Panel Study.” Journal of the American Geriatric Society, on-line, May 30, 2020. doi:10.1111/jgs.16556