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Midlife Heart Risk Factors Linked to Later Dementia
Date:8/4/2009

n a study of atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries that can lead to heart attack, stroke and other major cardiovascular problems.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota, the University of North Carolina, John Hopkins and the University of Mississippi Medical Center measured smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes among the participants from 1990-1992. They then tracked them until 2004 to see how many were hospitalized for dementia.

Smokers were 70 percent more likely to develop dementia than nonsmokers; those with high blood pressure were 60 percent more likely, and those with diabetes were twice as likely as those without diabetes to develop dementia. However, there was no link between midlife obesity and later dementia.

The idea behind the study was that "if we find risk factors for dementia, maybe we can develop new treatments, preventive programs to reduce the risk of dementia later in life," said study author Dr. Alvaro Alonso, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health.

Post-mortem studies of brains of people who had dementia often show damage to small arteries, he said. "Maybe there have been small strokes, which are not great enough to cause clinical symptoms, but in time can lead to dementia," Alonso said.

Measures against dementia now usually start when its first signs are detected, Alonso said. "Showing that cardiovascular risk factors earlier in life have an impact on dementia later in life gives another reason why we need to intervene with those cardiovascular risk factors," he said.

The findings of both studies "are an extension of what already has been found," said Michelle Mielke, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, who has done research on the causes of dementia.

"Both papers really point out the need to intervene in vascular factors in midlife," Mielke said. "They are as importan
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