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Study: Vascular problems in middle age increase risk of later dementia

May 2, 2000
Web posted at: 5:52 p.m. EDT (2152 GMT)

SAN DIEGO (CNN) -- Reducing high blood pressure, losing weight and lowering cholesterol levels may keep middle-aged people from losing intellectual abilities in old age, according to a report presented Tuesday at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting.

The researchers examined data from 3,555 Japanese-American men who have been enrolled since the mid-1960s in the Honolulu Heart Program, which regularly monitored their health. They identified men with elevated blood-glucose levels, blood pressure and body weight as well as high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

VideoCNN's Rhonda Rowland looks at what researchers think can help prevent the onset of vascular dementia.
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They found that men who had such vascular problems during middle age were more likely to suffer from impaired judgment, memory loss and other symptoms of dementia by the time they were in their 70s. In all, 215 men were diagnosed with dementia.

"We found that individuals who had more than one of these risk factors did have an increased risk of vascular dementia," said Lenore Launer, of the National Institute on Aging. Furthermore, each risk factor may increase the chances of dementia by about 10 percent.

According to a statement from the Academy, vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's disease. In addition to cardiovascular problems, brain scans show that small strokes have gradually destroyed parts of the brain.

But even though patients with poor vascular health were at an increased risk for vascular dementia during their senior years, the researchers found no evidence that these men were more likely to have Alzheimer's dementia later in life, the statement said.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Sandra Kalmijn of the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland, urged doctors to monitor patients and encourage them to work to reverse risk factors like excess weight and high blood pressure and cholesterol.

"It is too early to state that reducing their risk factor levels will definitely decrease the risk of vascular dementia," Kalmijn said in the Academy statement. "However, if these findings are confirmed by other large studies, improving the risk factor levels in middle age may result in delaying the onset of vascular dementia in older age."

CNN Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.

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American Academy of Neurology
National Institute on Aging
The Alzheimer’s Association

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