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Low Physical Function Linked to Dementia, Alzheimer Risk

Incidence rate triples in lowest functioning group compared with highest

MONDAY, May 22 (HealthDay News) -- Lower levels of physical function may be associated with the onset of dementia and Alzheimer disease, according to a study in the May 22 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Eric B. Larson, M.D., M.P.H., from the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues performed a prospective cohort study of 2,288 persons 65 years or older without dementia, enrolled between 1994 to 1996, to determine whether physical function is associated with incident dementia and Alzheimer disease.

During follow-up through October 2003, 319 participants developed dementia with 221 of those developing Alzheimer disease. Those scoring lower on performance-based physical function tests at baseline, which including walking, balancing, sitting and gripping assessments, had an incidence rate for dementia of 53.1 per 1,000 person-years compared with 17.4 per 1,000 person-years for those who scored higher. The link remained even after adjusting for multiple factors, including sex, age, education and family history of Alzheimer disease.

"The study suggests that poor physical function may precede the onset of dementia and Alzheimer disease and higher levels of physical function may be associated with a delayed onset," the authors conclude. The study also suggests that "exercise, by improving and maintaining physical function, might benefit cognitive function through a connection between the two."

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