A large, long-term study suggests that middle-aged people who have vascular health risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking, have a greater chance of suffering from dementia later in life. The study was published in JAMA Neurology.

The study analyzed the data of 15,744 people. From 1987-1989, the participants, who were black or white and 45-64 years of age, underwent a battery of medical tests during their initial examinations. Over the next 25 years they were examined four more times. Cognitive tests of memory and thinking were administered during all but the first and third exams.

Researchers found that 1,516 participants were diagnosed with dementia during an average of 23 follow-up years. Initially, when they analyzed the influence of factors recorded during the first exams, the researchers found that the chances of dementia increased most strongly with age followed by the presence of APOE4, a gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Whites with one copy of the APOE4 gene had a greater chance of dementia than blacks. Other factors included race and education: blacks had higher chance of dementia than whites; those who did not graduate from high school were also at higher risk.

In agreement with previous studies, an analysis of vascular risk factors showed that participants who had diabetes or high blood pressure, also called hypertension, had a higher chance of developing dementia. In fact, diabetes was almost as strong a predictor of dementia as the presence of the APOE4 gene.

Unlike other studies, the researchers discovered a link between dementia and prehypertension, a condition in which blood pressure levels are higher than normal but lower than hypertension. Also, race did not influence the association between dementia and the vascular risk factors they identified. Diabetes, hypertension and prehypertension increased the chances of dementia for white and black participants. Finally, smoking cigarettes exclusively increased the chances of dementia for whites but not blacks.

Paper: “Associations Between Midlife Vascular Risk Factors and 25-Year Incident Dementia in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Cohort”

Reprinted from materials provided by the NIH/NINDS.

October 16, 2017