Dementia refers to a wide
range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking
skills severe enough to interfere with a person's everyday
People who have heart disease risks in middle age - such as diabetes,
high blood pressure or smoking - are at higher risk for dementia later
in life, according to research presented at the American Stroke
Association's International Stroke Conference 2017.
‘People who have heart disease risks in middle age - such as diabetes, high blood pressure or smoking - are at higher risk for dementia later in life.’
"The health of your vascular system in midlife is really important
to the health of your brain when you are older," said Rebecca F.
Gottesman, lead researcher and associate professor of
neurology and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
In an ongoing study that began in 1987 and enrolled 15,744 people in
four U.S. communities, the risk of dementia increased as people got
older. That was no surprise, but heart disease risks detected at the
start of the study, when participants were between 45-64 years of age,
also had a significant impact on later dementia, researchers noted.
Dementia developed in 1,516 people during the study, and the researchers
found that the risk of dementia later in life was:
- 41% higher in midlife smokers than in non-smokers or former smokers;
- 39% higher in people with high blood pressure
(?140/90 mmHg) in middle age, and 31% higher in those with
pre-hypertension (between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg) compared to those
with normal blood pressure; and
- 77% higher in people with diabetes in middle age than in non-diabetics.
"Diabetes raises the risk almost as much as the most important known
genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease," Gottesman said.
Overall, the risk of dementia was 11% lower in women. The
risk was highest in individuals who were black, had less than a high
school education, were older, carried the gene known to increase
Alzheimer's risk, or had high blood pressure, diabetes or were current
smokers at the time of initial evaluation.
Smoking and carrying the gene known to increase the chance of
Alzheimer's were stronger risk factors in whites than in blacks, the
"If you knew you carried the gene increasing Alzheimer's risk, you
would know you were predisposed to dementia, but people don't
necessarily think of heart disease risks in the same way. If you want to
protect your brain as you get older, stop smoking, watch your weight,
and go to the doctor so diabetes and high blood pressure can be detected
and treated," said Gottesman.
Because Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities is an observational
study, the current study could not test whether treating heart risk
factors will result in a lessened dementia risk later in life.
"The benefit is that this is a long-term study and we know a lot
about these people. Data like these may supplement data from clinical
trials that look at the impact of treatment for heart disease risks,"