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AAN: Cardiac Risk Factors Tied to Cognitive Problems

Cardiovascular risk factors linked to higher risk of early cognitive and memory issues

TUESDAY, Feb. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Middle-aged individuals free of cardiovascular disease but with cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol appear to be at a higher risk for developing early cognitive and memory problems, according to research released Feb. 21 to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, which will be held from April 9 to 16 in Honolulu.

Sara Kaffashian, of INSERM in Paris, and colleagues evaluated 3,486 men and 1,314 women, mean age 55 years, from the Whitehall II study, a longitudinal British cohort study. Participants underwent cognitive tests three times over a 10-year period, including tests measuring reasoning, memory, fluency, and vocabulary. The Framingham general cardiovascular risk profile, which includes factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking status, and diabetes status, was used to predict 10-year risk of a cardiovascular event.

Compared to individuals with the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease, the investigators found that those who had higher cardiovascular risk were more likely to have lower cognitive function and a faster rate of overall cognitive decline. Specifically, a 10 percent higher cardiovascular risk was related to poorer cognitive test scores in all areas except fluency for women and reasoning for men. In addition, compared to lower cardiovascular risk, higher cardiovascular risk was associated with a 10-year faster rate of overall cognitive decline.

"Our findings contribute to the mounting evidence for the role of cardiovascular risk factors, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, contributing to cognitive problems, starting in middle age," Kaffashian said in a statement. "The study further demonstrates how these heart disease risk factors can contribute to cognitive decline over a 10-year period."

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