Dementia Risks Vary in the Later Decades of Life

May 26, 2022

Heart disease and diabetes are well known risk factors for dementia in later life. Now a new study shows that certain risk factors may be especially important depending on your age.  

For the study, researchers in Ireland, the United States and Australia looked at medical data from 4,899 older men and women who were part of the large Framingham Heart Study. They assessed cardiovascular risk factors starting at age 55, and then again at ages 65, 70, 75 and 80. By age 80, just over half of the study participants had developed Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. 

The researchers considered such factors as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and the use of blood pressure medications.  

They found that at age 55, those who had diabetes or high blood pressure were at highest risk of developing dementia over the next 10 years. Those who had diabetes by age 55 were four times more likely to develop dementia than their peers who did not have diabetes. And for each 10-point increase in systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading), there was a 12 percent increase in dementia risk. 

At age 65, dementia risk over the next 10 years was greatest among those who had had a heart attack or other forms of heart disease. They were at nearly twice the risk of developing dementia than their peers who did not have heart disease. 

For those in their 70s, diabetes and stroke were the greatest predictors of who would go on to develop dementia over the next decade.  

And at age 80, the risk of developing dementia was greatest in those who had diabetes or who had suffered a stroke. Taking blood pressure medications, on the other hand, reduced dementia risk. The findings were published in the journal Neurology. 

 “These findings can help us to more accurately predict a person’s future risk of developing dementia and make individualized recommendations on lifestyle changes and risk factor control to help reduce their risk of dementia later on,” said study author Emer R. McGrath, of National University of Ireland Galway. ‘“Our findings support the use of age-specific risk prediction scores for dementia instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.” 

Many factors determine who will ultimately go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Some factors, like the genes you inherit, can’t be changed, but others can be modified by adopting lifestyle habits such as a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise that may help to ward off heart disease, stroke and diabetes, all of which can impact your dementia risk. Until more effective treatments are found to curb or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, aiming to adopt heart-healthy habits may be critical for preserving the health not just of your heart, but also your brain. 

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.  

Source: Emer R. McGrath; Alexa S. Beiser; Adrienne O’Donnell; et al: “Determining Vascular Risk Factors for Dementia and Dementia Risk Prediction Across Mid- to Later-Life: The Framingham Heart Study.” Neurology, May 18, 2022 


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