If You Can't Do This, You May Be at High Risk of Dementia, New Study Says

This change could be a warning sign about your brain health.

With a host of various and sometimes subtle symptoms, dementia—a general term for diseases that cause cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer's and Lewy body dementia—is a global health crisis. "Alzheimer's disease and related dementias can be emotionally and financially ruinous for people living with the disease, their caregivers and families, and society at large," warns UsAgainstAlzheimer's (UsA2). "[These diseases] have catastrophic healthcare, economic, and social impacts—and these impacts are rapidly growing."

With no cure for dementia, an early diagnosis is currently the only way we can hope to address this devastating—and ultimately deadly—condition. Recognizing symptoms can be tricky, however, with some signs and risk factors manifesting in unexpected ways. Read on to find out one warning sign you might not know about.

READ THIS NEXT: If You Do This During the Day, It May Be an Early Sign of Dementia.

The number of people with dementia worldwide is steadily increasing.

Sad senior woman looking out a window.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a new case of dementia is diagnosed every four seconds. In 2015, over 47 million people worldwide suffered from dementia, with that number predicted to double every 20 years and reach 145 million in 2050.

Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia damage the brain, explains the Alzheimer's Association. "Alzheimer's disease leads to nerve cell death and tissue loss throughout the brain," says the site. "Over time, the brain shrinks dramatically, affecting nearly all its functions." This damage leads to memory loss, confusion, changes in personality, difficulty recognizing familiar people such as friends and family, and the ability to care for themselves and communicate. Ultimately, the disease is fatal. "While dementia itself may not cause death, the result of progressive brain disorders eventually cause death," Healthline reports.

One unique condition has been shown to be a risk factor for dementia.

Doctor with a digital tablet displaying results of brain scan.
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Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia have many known risk factors, and certain lifestyle choices can potentially decrease your chances of developing the condition. Researchers continue to discover other contributing factors, some of which are not commonly thought of as being connected to brain health. A condition called sarcopenic obesity (SO) has been shown in a new study to be one of those risk factors.

If you find yourself unable to perform normally routine activities that require hand strength—characterized by Verywell Health as including carrying groceries, opening jars, or turning doorknobs—this could indicate low handgrip strength, and subsequently a potential diagnosis of SO. A test of handgrip strength, utilizing a tool called a dynamometer, can help measure your handgrip strength.

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Sarcopenic obesity can be difficult to diagnose.

Tired senior man sitting on a couch.
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In a consensus statement for the journal Karger, researchers described SO as a unique clinical condition that combines obesity and sarcopenia, but is "different from obesity or sarcopenia alone."

"[It] is characterized by the combination of obesity, defined by high body fat percentage, and sarcopenia, defined as low skeletal muscle mass accompanied by low muscle function," according to the statement.

While there is no specific test for SO, identifying markers of both sarcopenia and obesity can help with a diagnosis. In addition to testing handgrip strength, other symptoms may include "unintentional weight loss, loss of muscle strength and stamina, and difficulty performing tasks," explains Emma Laing, PhD, RDN, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Obesity can be measured by calculating a person's body mass index (BMI).

Healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent SO.

Older couple walking in the park.
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You can reduce your risk of sarcopenic obesity by maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

"The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn't short-term dietary changes; it's about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity," advises the CDC. In an article about preventing SO for Karger, researchers emphasize that "exercise training or physical therapy have repeatedly been proven effective in improving muscle function and mass, and appropriate and safe exercise levels relative to the level of co-morbidities and disabilities should be routinely recommended in obese patients."

"People who maintain a physically active lifestyle and avoid sedentary behavior generally have a lower risk of developing sarcopenia," says Laing, adding that when it comes to healthy eating, "individual nutrition needs are specific and vary based on one's age, health conditions, and medication use."

Your physician can help you determine what physical activity would be effective for you, and Laing suggests consulting with a registered dietician nutritionist to help develop eating patterns that support a healthy weight and are consistent with your own preferences, cultural traditions, and budget.

Luisa Colón
Luisa Colón is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Latina, and many more. Read more
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