A new study reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2020 showed that risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease such as diabetes and high blood pressure can already be measured during adolescence. A finding that could benefit older African-Americans who are particularly at risk of developing dementia.
Predicting the risk of developing Alzheimer’s in the future in adolescents and young adults before the first symptoms appear has been the subject of many studies for years usually by examining family histories and taking into account risk factors.
A new study presented at the International Alzheimer’s Conference is part of this approach. According to the authors, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, hypertension or a combination of several risk factors are common in adolescence and are associated with a deterioration of cognitive functions at the end of life, especially in the African-American population. African Americans are twice as likely to develop dementia as whites of the same age.
Heart health affects cognitive health
Cognitive evaluations were performed in adolescents (12-20 years), young adults (21-34 years), and adults (35-56 years). Using memory and executive function tests, researchers found that in the population studied, diabetes, hypertension, or two or more cardiac health risk factors in adolescence, early adulthood, or middle age were associated with a statistically significant deterioration of cognitive function at the end of life. These differences persisted even after the consideration of other factors, such as age and education levels.
The study also highlighted the greater risk for African Americans of developing cardiovascular disease from adolescence to adulthood compared to other ethnic groups. According to researchers, cardiovascular disease is a risk factor affecting brain health in African Americans from a young age.
Overweight and education as risk factors
Other risk factors for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, have been identified. This is the case with a high BMI in young adults, which is associated with an increased risk of dementia at the end of life.
In women, the risk of dementia increases with a higher BMI in early adulthood. Compared to women with a normal BMI in early adulthood, the risk of dementia was 1.8 times higher in overweight women and 2.5 times higher in those that are obese. The risk of dementia was similar in obese adult men (2.5 times higher) and overweight men (1.5 times higher).
Researchers have found that a high BMI in adulthood is a risk factor for dementia later in life. Researchers suggest that efforts to reduce the risk of dementia should start earlier in life, with an emphasis on preventing and treating obesity.
The study also showed that the quality of education early in life influences the risk of dementia. By examining 2,446 black and white men and women aged 65 and older who attended primary school in the United States until the age of 21, researchers found that better quality early education was associated with better speech and memory performance and a lower risk of dementia at the end of life.