Handedness and cognitive function in older men and women: a comparison of methods

J Nutr Health Aging. 2008 Nov;12(9):641-7. doi: 10.1007/BF03008275.


Objective: Previous studies of handedness and cognitive function rely on self-classification and yield inconsistent results. This study examines the associations of self-reported versus grip-strength-based handedness with cognitive function in healthy older men and women.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: 1988-91 follow-up clinic visit and 1991 mailed survey.

Participants: 684 men and 985 women aged 55-95 who were community dwelling.

Measurements: Cognitive function was assessed with 12 tests and grip strength was measured by hand-held dynamometer. Self-reported handedness was obtained with a mailed survey.

Results: By self-report, 92.1% of men and women were right-handed; 2.0% were left handed. By grip strength, in men, 64.3% were right-handed, 22.5% left-handed, and 13.2% ambidextrous. In women, 61.3% were right-handed, 17.3% left-handed, and 21.4% ambidextrous. No cognitive function differences were found by self-reported handedness in either sex (p's>0.10). However, based on grip strength, left-handed women scored poorer than right-handed or ambidextrous women in immediate and delayed memory, attention, and verbal fluency (p's<0.05). Using categorical definitions, left-handed or ambidextrous individuals based on grip strength were more likely to show poor cognitive function on 4 of 5 tests.

Conclusion: Grip strength is a useful alternative to self-reports for classifying handedness. Left-handedness by grip-strength, may be related to poorer cognitive function; this association may vary by gender.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging* / physiology
  • Aging* / psychology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Disclosure