Detecting and treating frailty and pre-frailty in people early may help to reduce the risk of dementia, according to a study.
The research, which analysed dementia data, found that compared with non-frail individuals, the risk of dementia increased by 20% for individuals with pre-frailty and almost doubled for those with frailty.
As frailty may be preventable in many cases, researchers say this new data suggests early detection and treatment of the condition may in turn reduce the risk of dementia attributable to it.
Of the five components used to define frailty, four of them (weight loss, tiredness, low grip strength and slow gait speed) were all independently associated with increased dementia risk.
During a median follow-up period of 5.4 years, 726 of these individuals developed dementia.
Dr Carlos Celis-Morales, one of the authors of the study from the University of Glasgow, said: “Given that currently available medicines can neither cure nor reverse dementia, and offer little symptom relief, there is an urgent need to identify potential risk factors that could prevent or slow development of this terrible disease.
“This study further exposes the link between pre-frailty and frailty and the risk of dementia, and highlights the importance, moving forward, of early identification and treatment of patients with frailty.
“Public strategies aiming to improve physical capabilities, especially those related to muscle strength in middle-aged and older adults, might contribute to reducing the burden of frailty and, as a consequence, reduce the dementia risk attributable to frailty.”
In the study sample, pre-frailty and frailty accounted for 9.9% and 8.6% of dementia cases respectively.
Frailty was defined using five components – weight loss, tiredness, physical activity, gait speed, and grip strength – with participants classified as pre-frail if they fulfilled one or two criteria or frail if they fulfilled three or more.
The research also found a link between frailty in younger patients and a risk of dementia.
Individuals with frailty aged under 60 had an increased risk of dementia compared with those who were older.
More than 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, while globally that figure is currently approximately 50 million.
By 2050, scientists estimate that 152 million people worldwide will have dementia as populations grow older.
However, recent reports have suggested up to 40% of dementia cases could be prevented or delayed, with frailty highlighted as a risk factor.
Fanny Petermann-Rocha, one of the study authors, said: “Frailty, described as a state of increased vulnerability to adverse health outcomes, is an increasing medical problem around the world as populations get older.
“However, more recently, researchers have highlighted that frailty can be found in middle age populations, particularly in those who have underlying health conditions.”