Tests commonly used to predict the risk of developing heart disease and stroke may actually be more useful predictors of dementia, memory loss, and other cognitive declines than a standard mental-health test.
That’s the conclusion of a new study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, by French researchers who examined “risk score” tests typically used to gauge a person’s likelihood of developing heart disease, having a stroke, or suffering dementia in old age.
"This is the first study that compares these [heart, stroke] risk scores with a dementia risk score to study decline in cognitive abilities 10 years later," said Sara Kaffashian, with the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Paris, France.
For the study, researchers assessed more than 7,800 men and women — average age: 55 — for factors that increase their risk for stroke, cardiovascular disease, and dementia.
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The heart disease risk score assessed participants’ age, blood pressure, cholesterol, and whether they smoked or had diabetes. The stroke risk score was based on age, blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease history, and smoking habits. The dementia risk score took into account age, education, blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, exercise habits, and whether a person had the APOE gene associated with dementia.
The researchers also tested participants’ memory and thinking abilities three times over a 10-year period.
The results showed that all three risk scores accurately predicted which participants’ were more likely to suffer declines in multiple cognitive tests later in life. But the heart disease risk scores showed stronger links with cognitive declines than the dementia risk score. And both heart and stroke risk were associated with declines in all cognitive tests except memory, while the dementia risk score was not linked with a decline in memory and verbal fluency.
"Although the dementia and cardiovascular risk scores all predict cognitive decline starting in late middle age, cardiovascular risk scores may have an advantage over the dementia risk score for use in prevention and for targeting changeable risk factors since they are already used by many physicians,” said Kaffashian.
“The findings also emphasize the importance of risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure in not only increasing risk of heart disease and stroke but also having a negative impact on cognitive abilities.”
The study was funded, in part, by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging, the Agency for Health Care Policy Research and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
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