Neurodegenerative and Cerebrovascular Brain Pathologies Are Differentially Associated With Declining Grip Strength and Gait In Older Adults

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2023 Mar 1;78(3):504-513. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glac128.


Background: Understanding the pathological bases underlying the heterogeneity of motor decline in old age may lead to targeted treatments. We examined whether different brain pathologies are related to declining grip strength and gait function.

Methods: We examined postmortem brains of older adults who underwent annual motor testing. Postmortem exam measured 6 neurodegenerative and 5 cerebrovascular disease (CVD) pathologies. Grip strength was measured twice bilaterally using a hand-held dynamometer, and gait function was a composite measure based on time and steps taken to walk 8 ft and perform a 360° turn twice.

Results: In separate linear mixed-effects models including all autopsied adults (N = 1 217), neurodegenerative pathologies including tau tangles, TDP-43, and nigral neuronal loss were associated with declining grip strength, but not CVD pathologies. In contrast, although both CVD and neurodegenerative pathologies were associated with declining gait function, CVD pathologies accounted for 75% of the variance of declining rate of gait function explained by brain pathologies and neurodegenerative pathologies accounted for 25%. These findings were unchanged in adults (n = 970) without a history of stroke. Restricting analyses to only adults without dementia (n = 661), CVD pathologies continued to account for the majority of the variance of declining gait. However, we failed to detect in this subgroup the variance of declining grip strength explained by neurodegenerative or CVD pathologies.

Conclusion: Different pathologies accumulating in aging brains may contribute to the phenotypic heterogeneity of motor decline. Larger studies are needed in older adults without dementia to assess differences in the motor consequences of varied brain pathologies.

Keywords: Cerebrovascular disorders; Gait; Hand strength; Neurodegenerative diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain / pathology
  • Dementia*
  • Gait* / physiology
  • Hand Strength / physiology
  • Humans
  • Walking / physiology