New research finds that high cholesterol and high blood pressure not only put patients at risk for heart disease but are also risk factors for early memory loss and other cognitive problems.
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The study, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting.
Participants underwent three cognitive tests during a 10-year period.
The tests measured reasoning, memory, fluency, vocabulary, and rated each individual with a Framingham risk score.
A Framinghman score, which is based on a government study of the same name, is used to predict one's 10-year risk of a cardiovascular event and is based on age, sex, HDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, systolic blood pressure and whether or not a person smoked or had diabetes.
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"We found that cardiovascular risk in middle age is related to lower overall cognitive function," Sara Kaffashian, study co-author and doctoral student at INSERM, the French Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris, told AOL Health.
Poor cognitive test scores, including memory problems, were linked with a 10 percent higher risk of cardiovascular problems and cognitive decline in both men and women.
"This is important from the prevention point of view because middle-aged individuals can improve their cardiovascular health in order to prevent or delay cognitive decline or dementia later in life," says Kaffashian. "Our study builds on existing evidence for the importance of identifying and treating vascular risk factors particularly early in life."
Kaffashian says vascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, are currently the only treatable and preventable risk factors for memory decline and dementia.
"Therefore, active treatment of these risk factors through lifestyle modifications like smoking cessation and exercise, or medication, particularly early in life, may not only prevent stroke and heart disease but preserve cognitive function," says Kaffashian.
"Evidence from clinical and pathological studies suggests that treating hypertension can decrease the risk of dementia," she added.
SOURCES: Sara Kaffashian, doctoral student, INSERM, Paris; Ralph Sacco, M.D., professor, neurology, epidemiology and human genetics, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami; April 6-11, 2011, presentation, American Academy of Neurology annual meeting, Honolulu.
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