Faster Accumulation of Cardiovascular Risk Factors Linked to Increased Dementia Risk

Conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity may have a significant impact on the likelihood of developing cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer disease.

A new analysis indicates that people who accumulate multiple risk factors of cardiovascular disease at a faster pace over time have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer disease dementia or vascular dementia versus those whose risk factors remain stable throughout life.

The study, published online in Neurology, noted that conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity may have a significant impact on the likelihood of developing cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer disease.

“Our study suggests that having an accelerated risk of cardiovascular disease, quickly accumulating more risk factors like high blood pressure and obesity, is predictive of dementia risk and associated with the emergence of memory decline,” said study author Bryn Farnsworth von Cederwald, PhD, of Umeå University in Sweden, in a press release. “As a result, earlier interventions with people who have accelerated cardiovascular risks could be an effective way to help prevent further memory decline in the future.”

The analysis included 1244 people with an average age of 55 years who were considered healthy in terms of cardiovascular health and memory skills at the beginning of the study. The participants were given memory tests, health examinations, and completed lifestyle questionnaires every 5 years for up to 25 years.

Among all of the participants, 78 people developed Alzheimer disease dementia during the study and 39 people developed dementia from vascular disease.

The risk of cardiovascular disease was determined by using the Framingham Risk Score, which predicts the 10-year risk of a cardiovascular event. The factors analyzed include a person’s age, sex, body mass index, blood pressure, and whether they smoke or have diabetes. Additionally, the participants started the study with an average 10-year risk between 17% and 23%.

The researchers determined who had an accelerated cardiovascular disease risk by comparing participants to the average progression of cardiovascular disease risk. They found that cardiovascular disease risk remained stable in 22% of participants, increased moderately over time in 60%, and rose at an accelerated pace in 18% of people.

The participants in the study with stable cardiovascular disease risk had an average 20% risk of a cardiovascular event over 10 years throughout the study, whereas those with a moderate increased risk went from 17% to 38% over the course of the study and those with an accelerated risk went from a 23% to 62% increased risk by the end of the study.

The research team determined that when compared to those with a stable cardiovascular disease risk, people with an accelerated cardiovascular disease risk had a 3 to 6 times greater chance of developing Alzheimer disease dementia and a 3 to 4 times greater risk of developing vascular dementia.

“Several risk factors were elevated in people with an accelerated risk, indicating that such acceleration may come from an accumulation of damage from a combination of risk factors over time,” Farnsworth said in a press release. “Therefore, it is important to determine and address all risk factors in each person, such as reducing high blood pressure, stopping smoking and lowering BMI, rather than just address individual risk factors in an effort to prevent or slow dementia.”

One of the study limitations included the inability to determine whether the decline leading to dementia is initiated by an accelerated cardiovascular disease risk, which the investigators noted is a reason for future studies.

REFERENCE

Faster accumulation of cardiovascular risk factors linked to increased dementia risk. American Academy of Neurology. April 20, 2022. Accessed April 21, 2022. https://www.aan.com/PressRoom/Home/PressRelease/4981#:~:text=Researchers%20determined%20that%20when%20compared,risk%20of%20developing%20vascular%20dementia.