MONDAY, April 1 (HealthDay News) -- Assessing a person's future risk of heart disease and stroke may be a better predictor of mental decline than a dementia risk test, new research suggests.
The study included about 7,800 men and women with an average age of 55. Each participant's risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia was calculated at the start of the study.
The heart disease assessment included the risk factors of age, blood pressure, high blood pressure treatment, smoking, diabetes and levels of total cholesterol and "good" HDL cholesterol.
The stroke assessment included similar risk factors plus history of heart disease and irregular heart beat.
The dementia risk score included age, education, blood pressure, body-mass index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight), total cholesterol, exercise levels and whether a person had a specific type of the gene associated with dementia.
Ten years after having these risk assessments, the participants underwent tests of their thinking and memory (cognitive) abilities. All three risk tests were able to predict cognitive decline over 10 years, but heart disease risk scores had a stronger link with cognitive decline than dementia risk scores.
Both heart and stroke risk were associated with decline in all cognitive tests except memory. Dementia risk was not linked with declines in memory or verbal abilities, according to the study, which was published in the April 2 issue of the journal Neurology.
"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," Sara Kaffashian, of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, said in a journal news release.
"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," Kaffashian said.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about dementia.
-- Robert Preidt
SOURCE: Neurology, news release, April 1, 2013
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