Risk factors for heart disease—such as smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes—found in middle-aged patients increase their risk of developing dementia later in life. Diabetes in particular was found to increase this risk as much as the strongest known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association’s 2017 International Stroke Conference.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University looked at data collected from more than 15,000 people enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, beginning in 1987. Participant ages ranged from 45 to 64 at the start of the study. Over the course of ARIC, 1,516 participants developed dementia. The researchers found that the risk of dementia was 41% higher in people who had smoked in middle age, 39% higher with high-blood pressure at midlife and 77% higher in people with mid-life diabetes.
Since the study only observed people over time, it did not directly test whether treating these risk factors in mid-life could reduce the risk of developing dementia. However, “If you want to protect your brain as you get older, stop smoking, watch your weight, and go to the doctor so diabetes and high blood pressure can be detected and treated,” said Rebecca Gottesman, MD, PhD, lead author of the study, in a press release from the meeting.