Rating Your Health as Poor Increases Alzheimer’s Risk

March 20, 2012

Would you rate your health as fair or poor? You may be at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study shows.

Seniors who rated their health as poor or fair were at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia later on, a new study shows. The findings appeared in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The self-assessment was a good predictor of dementia, even among people who did not have memory problems. “Having people rate their own health may be a simple tool for doctors to determine a person’s risk of dementia, especially for people with no symptoms or memory problems,” said study author Dr. Christophe Tzourio of the University of Bordeaux in France.

Other research has shown that self-assessment questionnaires about health are reliable predictors of health. Studies have shown, for example, that people who rate their own health as poor are more likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than those who say their health is good.

This study looked at health assessments and the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia among seniors living in three cities in France. At the start of the study, the researchers asked 8,169 men and women to rate their health, including any problems with thinking or memory or symptoms of depression. The participants were asked to rate their current health on a scale of 1 to 5 in to response to the question, “Do you consider your health at the moment to be very poor, poor, fair (average), good or excellent?”

They were then given health check-ups at two-year intervals over the next seven or so years, including tests to look for signs of dementia.

During that time, 618 of the study participants developed Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. The risk of dementia was 70 percent higher in people who rated their health as poor or very poor, and 34 percent higher in people who rated their health as fair, compared to those who rated their health as good or excellent.

Interestingly, the dementia link was particularly strong among those who did not have problems with memory or thinking at the start of the study, and in those who did not have illnesses that hindered daily function. A poor self-assessment was associated with dementia regardless of whether someone had depression.

Two earlier reports found a link between poor self-assessments of health and Alzheimer’s risk. But those studies did not consider other illnesses, including depression, that may mimic signs of dementia. This study took those factors into account.

Doctors aren’t sure why a low self-assessment of health would increase dementia risk, but the authors have some theories.

“We know that having a large social network and social activities are associated with a decreased risk of dementia,” said Dr. Tzourio. “Therefore, it’s possible that rating one’s health as poor might be associated with behaviors that limit social interaction and in turn accelerate the dementia process.” Other studies have shown that feeling lonely more than doubles the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

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. Montlahuc, A. Soumare, C. Fufouil, et al: “Self-Reated Health and Risk of Incident Dementia: A Community-Based Elderly Cohort, the 3C Study.” Nuerology, Vol. 77, 2011, pages 14567-1464.


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