A new NIH-funded study indicates that midlife vascular health risks may increase chances of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“We know how to treat vascular disease and we know how to prevent vascular disease but we don’t know how to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, so it’s particularly important to evaluate the side of the equation we do know in terms of treatment,” said Dr. Rebecca Gottesman, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University and lead researcher of the study.
Gottesman and her research team examined 15,744 individuals, aged 45 to 64, and found that 1,556 participants suffered from dementia or experienced significant cognitive impairments.
They examined a variety of factors including smoking, diabetes, prehypertension, and hypertension. All were found to potentially contribute to dementia and eventually Alzheimer’s.
Genetic factors, namely the APOE4 gene associated with Alzheimer’s, were also investigated and found that those who possessed the gene had greater chances of developing dementia.
The study also factored in a participant’s weight, socioeconomic status, educational attainment level, and any pre-existing medical conditions.
Results also indicated that higher weight and lower educational attainment correlated with increased risk of dementia.
Participants in the study were recruited through NIH’s Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities project and were continuously examined between 1987 and 2012. Examinations consisted of detailed in-person examinations done by researchers at NIH’s regional facilities in Maryland, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Minnesota.
Limitations of the study did not account for dementia onset and the large sample had a margin of misclassification of dementia cases.
“As a research diagnosis, we determined that they looked like they had dementia but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s when the dementia started,” she said. Gottesman, however, explained that the results did not appear to be impacted in any significant way.
Gottesman concluded that the study reinforced the negative effects of public health issues like obesity and smoking.
“People know that it’s important not to smoke, to control your diabetes, to control your blood pressure but it’s very theoretical for many people,” Gottesman said. “It’s less compelling than when I point out the data that they have a risk of dementia as well,” she added.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.5 million Americans are currently diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.