Exposure to cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated serum LDL-cholesterol and smoking in childhood and adolescence, is associated with poorer learning ability and memory in middle age.
With the aging population, cognitive deficits, such as difficulties in learning and memory, are becoming more common. Cardiovascular risk factors contribute to the occurrence of these deficits.
Results from a longitudinal Finnish study show that the effects of cardiovascular risk factors on the brain begin already long before the occurrence of visible changes in cognitive performance.
The results of this study can be exploited by turning the focus of prevention of the cardiovascular risk factors actively to children and adolescence in order to promote brain health in adulthood. High blood pressure, elevated serum cholesterol levels and smoking can be regulated through healthy lifestyle choices.
The cognitive performance of over 2,000 participants was measured at the age of 34-49 years. The results showed that high blood pressure and serum LDL-cholesterol level measured in childhood and adolescence as well as smoking in adolescence were associated with poorer cognitive performance in midlife.
This association remained regardless of the presence of such risk factors in adulthood. The difference in cognitive performance between those participants whose risk factor levels often exceeded the guideline values for cardiovascular risk factors and those always remaining within the guideline values was equivalent to the difference caused by six years of aging.