Predicting Memory Problems

Stroke risk factors such as hypertension could predict cognitive difficulties

(RxWiki News) Hypertension, diabetes and smoking  are known to increase your chances for stroke. A new study shows they can also be factors in developing cognitive problems later in life, even among patients who have never experienced a stroke.

Individuals who do not suffer a stroke are still at risk for developing memory and thinking difficulties from blood vessel deterioration.

"Get your blood pressure checked annually."

Frederick Unverzagt, a professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine, recently authored a study with results emphasizing the importance of early intervention in treating high blood pressure and preserving cognitive health before a first stroke occurs.

During the study, researchers followed more than 30,000 individuals from the REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study that began in 2003.  The REGARDS study tracked stroke risk and cognitive health in patients of various races over the age of 45.

For this study, investigators gathered data about 24,000 of those participants with no history of cognitive impairment or stroke, and no evidence of stroke during the study. Investigators assessed the stroke risk of participants by examining factors such as hypertension, diabetes and heart problems. Individuals also took a memory test, which was repeated annually for four years.

During the study, 1,907 participants who had not had a stroke were still found to develop cognitive impairment. Age and heart enlargement were found to be the best predictors of the memory problems.

For each added decade in age, the risk of cognitive impairment for patients with stroke risk factors doubled. When adjusted for other factors, 10 years in age increased stroke risk by 30 percent.

Researchers also found that for each 10 mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure, the risk of cognitive decline increased by 4 percent.

Investigators also suggested that those who experienced the cognitive decline may have had silent strokes or other changes that affected the brain's blood supply. Causes such as Alzheimer's disease could not be ruled out, though stroke and Alzheimer's share common risk factors, including hypertension.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published in the Nov. 8 issue of journal Neurology.

Review Date: 
November 8, 2011