Older adults who are frail are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s dementia, new research published in The Lancet Neurology journal suggests.

“While more research is needed, given that frailty is potentially reversible, it is possible that helping people to maintain function and independence in later life could reduce both dementia risk and the severity of debilitating symptoms common in this disease,” said Kenneth Rockwood, M.D. of the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, who led the study.

Researchers found that adults aged 59 years or more years who had higher levels of frailty were more likely to have both Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes and symptoms of dementia, whereas others with substantial brain changes but who were not frail showed fewer clinical symptoms.

They reached their finding using modeling to assess relationships between frailty, Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes and Alzheimer’s dementia among 456 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project.

Participants underwent annual cognitive testing and neurological examinations. The researchers also developed a frailty index using a combination of 41 components of health status (for example, fatigue, joint and heart problems, osteoporosis, mobility, meal preparation) obtained at each clinical evaluation.

The researchers found a significant association between frailty and Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes after excluding activities of daily living from the frailty index and adjusting for other risk factors such as stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure and diabetes.