How fast we walk and how strong our hands grip as we get older could be early indicators of dementia and cognitive decline, before the onset of noticeable symptoms, according to a major study. It's believed the findings could lead to improved dementia diagnosis allowing GPs and other health care providers to identify dementia risk early and introduce treatments. While there are currently no cures for dementia, if identified early, treatment strategies can help slow its progression and manage symptoms. Globally, the number of people living with dementia is expected to almost triple in three decades, from 57.4 million in 2019, to 152.8 million by 2050. The Monash University study involving 18,000 initially health adults mostly aged 70 and older in the ASPREE trial, revealed that a combined poor gait speed and grip strength was linked to a 79 per cent increased risk of dementia and a 43 per cent increased risk of cognitive decline. The risk for dementia or cognitive decline was shown to be highest when gait and grip declined simultaneously over the study period of nearly five years, with an 89 per cent increased risk of dementia and 55 per cent increased risk of cognitive decline. It's the first time the two physical measures have been studied together to assess their combined link with changes in cognitive function. The ASPREE project is a long-term study of aspirin and health in older adults, to help discover ways to maintain health, quality of life and independence as we age. During the course of the ASPREE trial, 2773 participants developed cognitive decline and 558 dementia. Lead author Dr Suzanne Orchard, a Senior Research Fellow with Monash University's School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, said the research showed an important link between age-related cognitive and physical decline. "Poor physical function may be a marker of future risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and thus, understanding this association could enhance early detection and prevention strategies," she said. The study was conducted using data from the landmark ASPREE - ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly - clinical trial. Participants' grip strength and gait speed were measured upon entry to ASPREE and repeated during an average of 4.7 years. Gait speed was timed walking at normal pace over a distance of three metres, while grip strength was assessed using a hand-held device to measure force. Researchers then compared these physical benchmarks against participants' cognition, measured using assessments that examine functions such as memory and processing speed. Findings come after researchers accounted for age, gender, education, ethnicity/race, starting cognitive level, depression, smoking, alcohol, living situation and diabetes. This paper was published in the journal Alzheimer's &amp; Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment &amp; Disease Monitoring.