Inability to Balance on One Leg May Predict Dementia

Health Professional

Most of us take for granted the ability to get up and down from a chair or go about daily tasks using even if using the most modest activity levels. Yet our inability to do such things can say a lot about our brain health and may even say something about our stroke risk or likelihood of developing Alzheimer's or vascular dementia.

As we get older the chance of ill health increases. The brain is a vulnerable organ and as such can be exposed to a series of micro bleeds. These are so small that they are unlikely to cause symptoms, but some simple tests can reveal problems in the making. New research outlined in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke suggests that people who struggle to balance on one leg for 20 seconds or longer were at greater risk of full-blown strokes or dementia.

Yashuhara Tabara, a professor at the Center for Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Kyoto, Japan, said that one-leg standing time is a simple measure of postural instability and that people who show poor balance must receive increased attention if their cognitive decline is to be prevented or lessened.

Such simple tests have been applied in other situations. For example Dr. Rachel Cooper at the Medical Research Council in the UK found that men aged 53 years old who could balance on one leg for more than 10 seconds and stand up and sit down in a chair more than 37 times in a minute were found to be at least risk of dying early. By contrast, those who could perform the task less than 23 times in a minute were twice as likely to die in the following 13 years. Men and women who could stand on one leg with their eyes closed for less than two seconds were three times more likely to die than those who could hold it for 10 seconds or more.

As we age there is a tendency to be less active. Sometimes this is the result of medical conditions but not always. According to a report in the British Medical Journal, a team of American researchers found that a modest level of light physical activity such as walking, were 43 per cent less likely to develop disabilities involving tasks such as dressing, cooking meals, managing money, making telephone calls or getting in and out of bed.


Yasuharu Tabara, Yoko Okada, Maya Ohara, Eri Uetani, Tomoko Kido, Namiko Ochi, Tokihisa Nagai, Michiya Igase, Tetsuro Miki, Fumihiko Matsuda, and Katsuhiko Kohara.  Association of Postural Instability With Asymptomatic Cerebrovascular Damage and Cognitive Decline: The Japan Shimanami Health Promoting Program Study.  Stroke, December 2014 DOI:10.1161/STROKEAHA.114.006704