In a study published in the August 2nd issue of the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, researchers at UC Davis School of Medicine reported that vascular damage, brain volume losses, and cognitive decline in later life may be a result of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and smoking during midlife.
Professor of neurology in the UC Davis School of Medicine and director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Charles DeCarli explains, “This study provides evidence that identifying these risk factors early in middle age could be useful in screening people at risk of dementia and in encouraging them to make changes in their lifestyles before its too late.”
The study employed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to analyze the relationship between midlife vascular risk factors and markers for brain aging. The markers are indicative of cognitive decline and dementia in later life.
Data from the Framingham Offspring Cohort Study was used for the investigation. The Framingham Offspring Cohort Study is a multi-site, prospective group investigation comprising three generations of the offspring and spouses from participants in the Framingham Heart Study. The Framingham Heart Study included approximately 1,352 participants, with the average age of 54 years.
The participants were observed since 1978 to determine risk factors for vascular disease, and were constantly evaluated for elevated BMI, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and smoking.
Early in 1999, researchers found that volume of white matter hyper-intensities and bright white areas exposed on MRI which are measures of vascular disease, are associated with increased vascular damage. It also included changes in total brain volume as well as decision-making capabilities combined with cognitive tests of verbal and spatial memory.
According to research, compared to people with normal blood pressure, those with high blood pressure had accelerated productions of white matter hyper-intensities, and demonstrated a rapid decline of scores for executive function and planning making tests. The top 25% of people with a larger decline of test scores for executive functioning abilities in later life were most likely to be obese people.
According to investigations, brain volume losses in the hippocampus region occurred at a faster rate in mid-life diabetic participants than in elderly non-diabetics. Compared to participants who did not smoke, those who smoked demonstrated rapid losses in brain volume, and were more prone to quick increases in white matter hyper-intensities.
A member of the American Academy of Neurology DeCarli said: “These factors appeared to cause the brain to lose volume, to develop lesions secondary to presumed vascular injury, and also appeared to affect the brain’s ability to plan and make decisions as quickly as it had 10 years earlier.”
Stephanie Debette, Sudha Seshadri, Alexa Besier, Jayandra Jung Himali, Carole Palumbo, and Philip A. Wolf were amongst the other study authors from Boston University.
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Institutes of Health funded the investigation.