The Link Between Poor Handgrip Strength and Cognitive Decline

Many people over the age of 65 (and even before that age) struggle with poor handgrip strength. Poor handgrip strength can make it difficult to hold on to a steering wheel when driving, open a jar, use a screwdriver, or even brush your teeth. Most people do not realize that poor handgrip strength has been associated with another very serious medical, health, and wellness issue, according to the results of a large research study published in JAMA Network Open in the summer of 2022. Researchers report that poor handgrip strength in midlife can be associated with cognitive decline a decade later.

About the Research Study

The study involved more than 190,000 dementia-free men and women. The research participants had an average age of 56. Each research participant was involved in the study and followed for at least ten years.

Study participants took tests that measured handgrip strength, problem-solving skills, memory, and reasoning abilities. The study participants also underwent brain imaging.

Compared with people who possessed higher handgrip strength scores at the start of the study, people with lower grip scores were more likely to have later problems with thinking and memory, brain imaging markers of vascular dementia, and diagnoses of dementia. Researchers do caution that the study was observational. The study does not prove that poor handgrip strength caused the cognitive decline. This study does suggest that there is some association, nonetheless. In addition, JAMA notes that other studies have suggested a similar association between handgrip strength and eventual cognitive decline.

Overview of the Importance of Handgrip Strength

Handgrip strength is an important indicator of overall muscle strength and health. A weak handgrip can indicate several health problems, including poor muscle function, reduced mobility, and even early signs of dementia. While aging is the most common cause of a weak handgrip, several other causes can lead to this problem.

One common cause of weak handgrip strength is arthritis. Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation and pain in the joints. This can lead to reduced hand mobility and strength, affecting handgrip strength.

Another common cause of weak handgrip strength is carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that affects the nerves in the wrist. It can cause numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hands and fingers. This can make it difficult to grip objects firmly.

Poor nutrition can also lead to weak handgrip strength. If you are not getting enough protein, vitamins, and minerals, your muscles may not be able to function properly. This can lead to a weaker grip.

Other causes of weak handgrip strength include nerve damage, muscle imbalance, and thyroid problems. See your doctor for advice if you are experiencing problems with your hands or grip.

Ways to Improve Handgrip Strength

If you’re looking to improve your grip strength, there are a few exercises you can do. One is to squeeze a rubber ball or stress ball. Another is to do wrist curls with a weight or resistance band. You can also try exercises that use gravity and your body weight, like hanging from a pull-up bar or doing squats.

Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

We previously mentioned carpel tunnel syndrome as a possible cause for issues with handgrip strength. Carpel tunnel syndrome is a medical condition that results when the median nerve, which runs from the shoulder to the hand, is compressed or squeezed at the wrist. This can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness in the hand and arm.

If you are experiencing symptoms of CTS, your doctor may recommend surgery to release the pressure on the median nerve. This surgery is called carpal tunnel release surgery.

During carpal tunnel release surgery, your surgeon will make an incision in the skin over the carpal tunnel. The carpal ligament will be cut to release the pressure on the median nerve. The incision will then be closed with stitches.

Most people who undergo carpal tunnel release surgery experience relief from their symptoms. However, there is a risk of complications such as infection and nerve damage. Be sure to discuss all potential risks and benefits of surgery with your doctor before deciding whether or not to proceed.

Essential Signs of Cognitive Decline

Aging is a natural process that everyone goes through. As we age, our body changes, and our cognitive function may decline. While some cognitive decline is expected as we age, it is important to recognize the signs of more serious problems.

There are many signs of cognitive decline, which can vary from person to person. Some common symptoms include memory loss, difficulty concentrating, trouble learning new information, and problems with critical thinking and judgment.

You must talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Cognitive decline can signify a more serious problem, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. Early diagnosis and treatment are key for helping to maintain your quality of life as you age.

Testing for Handgrip Strength

In general, normal grip strength declines with age. However, this decline varies from person to person. Some people may experience a significant loss of grip strength by the time they reach old age, while others may maintain their grip strength well into their senior years.

As discussed previously, many factors can contribute to a decline in grip strength, including natural aging, health conditions, and lifestyle choices. As noted, such things as poor nutrition, a lack of exercise, and smoking are all known to contribute to a weakening of the muscles and tendons that control grip strength.

If you are concerned about your grip strength and would like to know how you compare to others your age, you can take a few tests. One is the dynamometer test, which measures the force you can apply when gripping an object. Another is the pinch test, which assesses the force you can generate when pinching two objects together.