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Heart Disease Risk Factors Also Contribute to Memory Loss in Older Adults


Metabolic syndrome is the medical name for a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for heart disease. But, as has been noted in previous studies, what is bad for the heart is also bad for the brain. Researchers from the French National Institute of Health Research have found that older adults with risk factors such as larger waistlines and high blood pressure are also at risk for memory loss.

Metabolic Syndrome, Especially Cholesterol Levels, Affect Memory Test Performance

According to the definition of metabolic syndrome, one has the condition if they have three of the five following risk factors: Blood pressure equal to or higher than 130/85 mmHg, fasting blood sugar equal to or higher than 100 mg/dL, large waist circumference (40+ inches for men, 35 inches or more in women), low HDL cholesterol (under 40 mg/dL in men and under 50 mg/dL in women), and triglycerides equal to or higher than 150 mg/dL.

In addition to coronary artery disease, metabolic syndrome also increases the risk for heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Read: High-Intensity Exercise Better At Improving Metabolic Syndrome

For the study, Christelle Raffaitin MD and team tested over 7,000 people aged 65 and older from three French cities. A total of 16% were found to have the metabolic syndrome. The participants were given a series of memory and cognitive function tests which included a test of visual working memory and a test of word fluency two and four years later.

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Those diagnosed with metabolic syndrome were 20% more likely to have cognitive decline on the memory test than those without the condition. The patients were also 13% more likely to show poorer performance on the visual working memory test.

Read: Magnesium-Rich Diet May Reduce Metabolic Syndrome Risk

Cholesterol levels appeared to have the greatest effect on the memory scores. High triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol affected performance on both the visual working memory and word fluency tests. Diagnosed diabetes, rather than prediabetes, was also a greater risk factor for memory loss.

"Our results suggest that management of metabolic syndrome may help slow down age-related memory loss, or delay the onset of dementia," said Dr. Raffaitin.

While aging and genetic predisposition can increase the risk for metabolic syndrome, most factors can be managed with diet, exercise and medications. Recommendations from the National Institutes of Health include losing weight by eating 500-1000 fewer calories per day than currently consuming, which should result in a moderate 1 to 2 pound weight loss per week, and increasing exercise to at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activities, such as brisk walking, 5 to 7 days each week.

Journal Reference:
C. Raffaitin, C. Féart, M. Le Goff, H. Amieva, C. Helmer, T. N. Akbaraly, C. Tzourio, H. Gin, P. Barberger-Gateau.Metabolic syndrome and cognitive decline in French elders: The Three-City Study. Neurology, 2011; DOI:10.1212/WNL.0b013e31820b7656