In this era of unprecedented longevity, healthy aging is an important public health priority. Avoiding or shortening the period of disability or dementia before death is critical to achieving the defining objectives of healthy aging, namely to develop and maintain functional capabilities that enable wellbeing in older age. The first step is to identify people who are at risk and then to implement effective primary interventions. Geriatricians have identified a distinct clinical phenotype of concurrent physical frailty and cognitive impairment, which predicts high risk of incident dementia and disability and is potentially reversible. Differing operational definitions for this phenotype include “cognitive frailty”, “motoric cognitive risk syndrome” and the recently proposed “physiocognitive decline syndrome (PCDS)”. PCDS is defined as concurrent mobility impairment no disability (MIND: slow gait or/and weak handgrip) and cognitive impairment no dementia (CIND: ≥1.5 SD below the mean for age-, sex-, and education-matched norms in any cognitive domain but without dementia). By these criteria, PCDS has a prevalence of 10–15% among community-dwelling older persons without dementia or disability, who are at increased risk for incident disability (HR 3.9, 95% CI 3.0–5.1), incident dementia (HR 3.4, 95% CI 2.4–5.0) and all-cause mortality (HR 6.7, 95% CI 1.8–26.1). Moreover, PCDS is associated with characteristic neuroanatomic changes in the cerebellum and hippocampus, and their neurocircuitry, which are distinct from neuroimaging features in normal aging and common dementia syndromes. Basic research and longitudinal clinical studies also implicate a hypothetical muscle-brain axis in the pathoetiology of PCDS. Most important, community-dwelling elders with PCDS who participated in a multidomain intervention had significant improvements in global cognitive function, and especially in the subdomains of naming and concentration. Our proposed operational definition of PCDS successfully identifies an appreciable population of at-risk older people, establishes a distinct phenotype with an apparently unique pathoetiology, and is potentially reversible. We now need further studies to elucidate the pathophysiology of PCDS, to validate neuroimaging features and muscle-secreted microRNA biomarkers, and to evaluate the effectiveness of sustained multidomain interventions.
- cognitive frailty
- healthy aging
- physical frailty
- Physio-cognitive decline syndrome