If You Do This When Meeting People, It Could Signal Dementia, Study Warns

You'll want to pay attention to this during introductions.

Meeting new people can be fun and exciting, giving you the opportunity to make friends, or even find a potential significant other. And whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert, you may have different ways of finding "your people." But now, researchers are suggesting that something you probably do when meeting others for the first time could have serious implications for your future cognitive health. Read on to find out what social behavior a new study says could mean you're at an increased risk of dementia down the road.

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Researchers are working to identify risk factors for dementia.

Older couple sleeping in bed
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Dementia affects nearly 50 million people globally, according to the Alzheimer's Association, making it a top priority for healthcare providers and researchers. New data has pointed to modifiable risk factors to help lower your chance of developing the disease, including getting optimal sleep and eating enough vitamin K. Other risk factors are out of our control—the most significant being age. And while maintaining an active social life as we get older can help keep our brains sharp, you'll want to pay attention to one key component of meeting new people.

This common gesture could give a clue your cognitive health.

handshake introduction
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A new study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that a weakened handshake could be an indicator that you're at higher risk for dementia. Researchers found that reduced hand grip strength (HGS) in midlife was linked to "several markers of cognitive aging," particularly neuroimaging outcomes and different types of dementia.

Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco studied data from 190,406 men and women in the U.K. Participants had an average age of 56.5 years and didn't have dementia when they enrolled in the study between 2006 and 2010. They were followed until Dec. 2020 to see if they were diagnosed with dementia, with investigators evaluating the link between HGS and those who developed the condition.

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Reduced hand grip strength is associated with dementia.

using tool to measure grip strength
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Researchers measured HGS using a tool called a hydraulic hand dynamometer. Participants were instructed to squeeze the device as strongly as they could for three seconds, once with their right hand and once with their left. HGS was measured at four study visits, while fluid intelligence (the ability to think and reason abstractly) and prospective memory (the ability to remember a planned action or intention in the future) were both evaluated using a touch screen assessment during visits. Some patients also had brain imaging done.

In women, every five-kilogram decrease in HGS was associated with a 14 percent increase in risk of dementia, whereas men had a 16 percent increase in dementia risk for every five-kilogram decrease in HGS. And in general, lower HGS was associated with incident dementia for both men and women,  including both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.

These findings may help researchers develop earlier interventions for dementia.

older man with dementiia looking out window
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The study found that participants with lower HGS had lower fluid intelligence and lower odds of a correct score on a memory test, while increased white matter hyperintensity—an important marker for dementia risk—was also connected with lower HGS during midlife for both men and women. Investigators stressed the importance of studying middle-aged adults, as it "precedes the onset of nearly all dementia," and is when interventions would likely offer the most benefit to muscle strength.

Researchers say these results may add more support to muscle strength interventions earlier on in life. "Our findings add to a small but growing body of research indicating that the association between muscle strength and dementia may be due to vascular mechanisms and that interventions designed to increase muscle strength, particularly among middle-aged adults, may hold promise for the maintenance of neurocognitive brain health," study authors wrote.

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