Chicago (ots/PRNewswire) Risk factors for Alzheimer’s dementia can already be identified in teenage years and in the 20s, report new research results, which were published at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® (AAIC®) 2020.

These risk factors, many of which are disproportionately pronounced in African Americans, include factors related to heart health – such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – and social factors such as the quality of education. According to the report Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures of the Alzheimer’s Association are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other dementias among older African-Americans as among older whites.

“By identifying, reviewing, and counteracting Alzheimer’s risk factors that we can change, we can reduce new cases and ultimately the total number of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” said Dr. Maria C. Carrillo, Chief Science Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Research like this is important to address health inequalities and provide resources that could have a positive impact on people’s lives.”

“These new AAIC 2020 reports show that it is never too early or too late to take action to protect memory and thinking skills,” said Carrillo.

The Alzheimer’s Association is leading the U.S. Study on Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (US POINTER), a two-year clinical trial to investigate whether lifestyle interventions that simultaneously target many risk factors that protect cognitive function in older adults who are at increased risk of cognitive decline. US POINTER is the first such study to be conducted on a large, heterogeneous group of Americans in the United States.

African American adolescents have an increased risk of dementia

In a population of more than 714 African Americans, Dr. Kristen George, MPH, of the University of California, Davis, and colleagues in the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR) found that hypertension and diabetes, or a combination of several heart health-related factors, in adolescence occur frequently and are associated with poorer late cognition. Study participants were adolescents (n = 165; ages 12-20), young adults (n = 439; ages 21-34) and adults (n = 110; ages 35-56). The mean age in the cognitive assessment was 68 years.

Cognition was measured using personal tests of memory and executive function. The researchers found that this study population, which had diabetes, high blood pressure, or two or more risk factors for heart health in adolescence, young adulthood or in the middle of life, was associated with statistically significantly poorer cognition in late life. These differences persisted even after considering age, gender, years since the risk factors were measured, and education.

Before this report, little was known about whether risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (HKE) developed before mid-life were associated with late cognition. This is an important question because African Americans are more at risk of HKE risk factors than other racial / ethnic groups from adolescence to adulthood.

According to the researchers, these results suggest that risk factors for cardiovascular disease affect adolescent brain health in late adulthood, even in adolescence. Efforts to promote a heart and brain healthy lifestyle must involve not only middle-aged adults, but also younger adults and adolescents who may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of poor vascular health on the brain.

BMI in early adulthood is related to the risk of late dementia

In the authors’ first study reporting on this subject, a higher body mass index (BMI) in early adulthood (20-49 years) was associated with a higher risk of dementia in late adulthood.

Relatively little is known about the role of the BMI in early adulthood in relation to the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The researchers examined a total of 5,104 older adults from two studies, including 2,909 from the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) and 2,195 from the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study (Health ABC). Of the total sample, 18% were black and 56% women. Using aggregated data from four established cohorts that span the entire adult curriculum vitae, including the two cohorts included in the study, the researchers estimated the BMI from the age of 20 for all older adults in the CHS and Health ABC study .

Dr. Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri from Columbia University and colleagues found that a high BMI in adulthood is a risk factor for dementia in advanced age. The researchers point out that efforts to reduce the risk of dementia may need to start earlier in life, with a focus on preventing and treating obesity.

Quality of early education affects risk of dementia

In a broad group of more than 2,400 people who were followed up to the age of 21, higher quality early childhood education was associated with better language and memory skills and a lower risk of dementia in advanced age. The results were slightly different between men and women and between black and white in the study.

The study included 2,446 black and white men and women ages 65 and older who participated in the Washington Heights / Inwood Columbia Aging Project and attended elementary school in the United States. A quality variable for the school based on historical measurements included: school enrollment age, school dropout age, duration of schooling, student-teacher ratio and student presence.

People who attended school in less educated states had a faster decrease in memory and language than older adults. Black women and men and white women who attended schools in countries with higher levels of education were less likely to develop dementia. According to the scientists, the results were partly explained by the fact that people who attended schools with higher educational quality ended up with more
Complete school years.

Dr. Justina Avila-Rieger, a PhD scientist at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, and colleagues say the results provide evidence that dementia risk and cognitive function are influenced later in life by government education policies at an early age.

Information on the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC)

The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) is the world’s largest gathering of its kind. It brings together researchers from around the world who focus on Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The AAIC is part of the research program of the Alzheimer’s Association and serves as a catalyst for the development of new knowledge about dementia and for the promotion of a vital, collegial research community.

Information about the Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association is a global, voluntary health organization that aims to care for, support and research Alzheimer’s. Our goal is to pave the way, eradicate Alzheimer’s and all other dementias. This is done by promoting global research, reducing risks, early detection and optimizing care and support. Visit alz.org or call 800.272.3900.

  • Kristen George, PhD, MPH, et al. Cardiovascular risk factors in adolescence and adulthood and late-life cognition: Study of healthy aging in African Americans (STAR). (Finanzierung durch: National Institute on Aging der USA)
  • Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, PhD, et al. Association of early life BMI with dementia risk: Findings from a pooled cohort analysis. (Finanzierung durch: National Institute on Aging der USA)
  • Justina Avila-Rieger, et al. Relationship between state-level administrative school quality data, years of education, cognitive decline, and dementia risk. (Finanzierung durch: National Institute on Aging der USA)

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Questions & contact:

Alzheimer’s Association media contact: 312.335.4078
media@alz.org or AAIC 2020 press office: aaicmedia@alz.org

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