Heart Disease Risk Factors Tied to Memory Loss in Old Age

May 24, 2011

Having a thick middle, high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia as well, a new study reports.

The findings come from France, where researchers studied more than 7,000 men and women ages 65 and older living in three French cities. Those who had a constellation of symptoms called “metabolic syndrome” – including hypertension, a large waistline, high levels of a type of blood fat called triglycerides, low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, and poor control of blood sugar, a sign of impending diabetes – tended to perform worse on memory and thinking skills tests than those without these issues. Performing poorly on such tests is often an indicator of an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The findings appeared in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Metabolic syndrome has long been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks. It is not an actual disease but rather a group of symptoms. The findings support a growing body of evidence that factors like a large waistline and high blood pressure – whether in midlife or beyond — may be linked to diminishing thinking skills and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our study sheds new light on how metabolic syndrome and the individual factors of the disease may affect cognitive health,” said study author Christelle Raffaitin, M.D., of the French National Institute of Health Research in Bordeaux. “Our results suggest that management of metabolic syndrome may help slow down age-related memory loss, or delay the onset of dementia.”

At the start of the study, researchers evaluated the 4,323 women and 2,764 men and found that 16 percent had metabolic syndrome. All the participants were given memory tests two and four years later.

Those with metabolic syndrome were 20 percent more likely to have a decline in thinking and memory skills than those without the syndrome. Two factors in particular were linked to declining memory: higher triglycerides and low HDL, or “good” cholesterol. Having diabetes was also linked to memory problems, although high blood sugar levels were not.

The authors propose that taking steps to reduce metabolic syndrome may help to ward off or slow down mental decline in old age. Increasingly, Alzheimer’s is seen as a disease that may take years or even decades to develop. Taking measures to slow cognitive decline could, potentially help to keep thinking sharp and postpone the onset of full-blown Alzheimer’s by many years.

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

Source: C. Raffaitin, MD, C. Feart, PhD, M. Le Goff, MSc, et al: “Metabolic Syndrome and Cognitive Decline in French Elders: The Three-City Study.” Neurology, Feb 2, 2011, Vol. 76, pages 518-525.


Alzheimer's Articles