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High cholesterol in midlife may mean dementia later

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new study by researchers at Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research and the University of Kuopio in Finland shows that even slightly elevated cholesterol levels in midlife increases our risk of dementia later in life. In a study that explored the relationship between cholesterol levels and dementia, researchers found a fifty-two percent increased risk of dementia from borderline high cholesterol readings.

Kaiser Permanente Northern California members were followed for forty years, beginning at age 40 to 45. The study included 9,844 men and women. The study found that chances of developing dementia increased sixty six percent when cholesterol levels are above 240mg in midlife.

Senior author Rachel Whitmer, Ph.D., a research scientist and epidemiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Ca calls the findings “disturbing”. She says the research shows that heart health is linked to brain health. "Our study shows that even moderately high cholesterol levels in your 40s puts people at greater risk for Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia decades later.”

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Whitmer points out that over 100 million Americans have borderline or high cholesterol. The study is the first to show an association later in life between cholesterol in midlife and vascular dementia, a condition caused by diseased blood vessels that supply blood flow to the brain.

The researchers say the causes of heart disease, and dementia occur together. "Dementia and cardiovascular disease are common major health problems, share several risk factors and often occur simultaneously, interacting with one another. A holistic approach that addresses multiple major health problems simultaneously is needed to effectively manage these disorders." Reducing our chances of dementia later in life means taking action in midlife to eat healthy, engage in regular exercise, and control obesity, and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Symptoms of vascular dementia vary, depending on the area of the brain affected. Dementia that could occur from even borderline high cholesterol levels in midlife include memory loss, inability to concentrate, depression, confusion, agitation, difficulty conveying thoughts logically, and wandering. Symptoms can occur suddenly, or worsen over time. The new study shows that high cholesterol, even borderline, in midlife can increase risk of dementia fifty-two to sixty-six percent.

Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders.