Researchers Use Sensory, Motor Skill Testing to Predict Risk of Cognitive Decline

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How well someone moves, sees and smells may help predict their risk of cognitive decline or impairment as far as 10 years into the future.

Sensory and motor skill testing was the subject of a new study from the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The analysis tested around 1,500 Gen X and baby boomers as part of a larger study on sensory and cognitive aging.

Examinations “included measures of sensory and motor function, vascular health, a blood draw and demographic and behavioral and medical history questionnaires” in the participants. Additionally, cognitive assessments were conducted through “domains of attention, processing speed, executive function, memory, language and general cognitive function.”

Participants had an average age of 49 when the study began, and were reassessed five years and 10 years later.

The approach was compared to two previous prediction scores: the Framingham Risk Score and the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Incidence of Dementia score.

Senior author Natascha Merten, PhD, MS, assistant professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences at UW School of Medicine and Public Health, wondered if the previous scoring methods could use an update, according to the press release.


The release states a neurocognitive review panel “determined which participants’ test results met the standard for cognitive impairment.” An additional measure of cognitive decline included a “trail-making test,” which included connecting letters or numbers in order, and those who took longer than 29 seconds were “considered as having cognitive decline.”

By adding in these factors, researchers were able to “improve the prediction of cognitive decline 10 years later.”

“Sensory and motor function tests are reliable, cost effective and non-invasive, so they could serve as a practical addition for future prediction models,” Merten said in the release. “If we can identify high-risk individuals early, we can target them for future intervention and prevention strategies.”

According to the release, Merten’s team is currently following up on the original Beaver Dam Offspring Study to “contribute to the identification of early markers and potentially modifiable factors to promote healthy brain aging.”

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