For the first time, McGill University researchers have found a significant association between the presence of low muscle mass and faster cognitive decline, and that this association is independent of muscle strength and physical activity level. These findings could be used to help identify people at risk of developing dementia, according to the researchers.

The research is based on the study of a cohort of 30,000 Canadians between the ages of 65-86 years old. Researchers from the McGill Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, the School of Human Nutrition and the Metabolic Disorders and Complications Program (MeDiC) at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) has shown for the first time that the presence of lower muscle mass is associated with faster cognitive decline in older adults.

“These findings are important because muscle mass is a modifiable factor, meaning that we can do something about it. Exercise ─ particularly resistance exercise ─ and good nutrition with sufficient protein can help maintain muscle mass over the years,” says Stéphanie Chevalier, RD, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Human Nutrition and Associate Member of the Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatric Medicine and of Endocrinology, who led the study. “Our results show that measuring low muscle mass may help to identify people who have greater risk of cognitive decline. We should measure muscle more widely, in clinics, not only in research studies.”

Association of Low Muscle Mass With Cognitive Function During a 3-Year Follow-up Among Adults Aged 65 to 86 Years in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging” by Stéphanie Chevalier et al., was published in JAMA Network Open.