Suffering health problems in midlife ‘more than doubles risk of dementia’, new research suggests
Suffering two or more chronic health problems in midlife more than doubles the risk of dementia, new research suggests.
Illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure, depression, liver disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer all impact on the risk of mental decline, the study found.
The new research, published in the BMJ medical journal, found that the risk is greater when these sorts of conditions develop at a younger age (mid-50s) rather than later in life.
Every five year younger age onset for the conditions up to the age 70 also pushed the risk of dementia up by 18%.
For the study, experts looked at those having two or more chronic health conditions when people were aged 55, 60, 65 and 70.
From the group of 10,095 British men and women taking part in the Whitehall II Study, 7% had two or more conditions aged 55, rising to 32% at age 70.
Overall, 639 cases of dementia occurred over a typical 32 year follow-up.
After adjusting for factors such as socio-economic status, diet and lifestyle, having two or more conditions aged 55 pushed up the risk of dementia almost two-and-a-half times, compared to people with none.
Meanwhile, developing two or more conditions between the ages of 60 and 65 was associated with a 1.5-fold higher risk.
For those with three or more chronic conditions aged 55, there was around a five-fold higher risk of dementia.
The risk fell dramatically if people were aged 70 before they developed chronic health conditions.
The experts, including from University College London (UCL), said: “Given the lack of effective treatment for dementia and its personal and societal implications, finding targets for prevention of dementia is imperative.
“These findings highlight the role of prevention and management of chronic diseases over the course of adulthood to mitigate adverse outcomes in old age.”
All the people in the research were aged 35 to 55 at the start of the Whitehall II Study (from 1985 to 1988).
Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “One in three people born today will go on to develop dementia in their lifetime.
“Age, genetics, and lifestyle are all risk factors for developing the condition, but we know age is also a major risk factor for the development of other health conditions.
“Large, long-term studies like this are good for highlighting links, but we need research to explore the mechanisms between individual conditions.
“It is important to properly manage long-term health conditions and people who have concerns about any aspect of their health should speak to their GP.
“We do know that it’s never too early or too late in life to take action on brain health and there are things we can do to reduce our risk of dementia.
“This includes not smoking, only drinking in moderation, staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, and keeping cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check can all help to keep our brains healthy as we age.”
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