Diabetes during old age can send dementia risk skyrocketing

MINNEAPOLIS — Diabetes can raise the risk of dementia among older adults by more than four times, according to new research. Scientists with the American Academy of Neurology add that conditions that increase risk of the memory robbing disease vary with age.

For instance, people around the age of 55 are most likely to develop dementia if they have diabetes and high blood pressure. Those with heart disease in their mid 60s are most prone. Meanwhile, individuals in their 70s should be wary if they’ve already suffered a stroke or have diabetes.

This also applied to 80-year-olds, although taking blood pressure medications proved to be protective against the disease.

“These findings can help us to more accurately predict a person’s future risk of developing dementia and make individualized recommendations on lifestyle changes and risk factor control to help reduce their risk of dementia later on,” says lead author Professor Emer McGrath from the National University of Ireland Galway in a media release.

The number of dementia cases worldwide will triple to more than 150 million by 2050, according to estimates. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on preventative behaviors.

Rising blood pressure increases dementia risk with ever point

Prof. McGrath and colleagues tracked nearly 5,000 people in the U.S. for up to a quarter of a century, starting around the age of 55. They used information from the Framingham Heart Study which has been surveying the health of residents of one Massachusetts town for decades.

Almost half of the participants remained dementia free and had data available at around the age of 80. Starting at 65, researchers followed them to see who developed dementia.

People who had diabetes when they were 55 years-old were over four times more likely to later develop dementia than people who did not have diabetes at that age. Meanwhile, 55-year-olds with high blood pressure were more likely to develop dementia, with the risk increasing by about 12 percent for every 10-point increase in systolic blood pressure. This is the top number in a blood pressure reading.

Heart disease is a major risk factor too

People who had cardiovascular disease when they were 65 years-old were nearly twice as likely to later develop dementia as those who did not have those conditions. This could include a heart attack or other heart conditions, but not stroke.

People in their 70s who had diabetes and stroke were more likely to develop dementia. For 80-year-olds, people who had a stroke or diabetes were about 40 percent to 60 percent more likely to develop dementia.

“Dementia is a complicated disease and risk prediction scores need to be tailored to the individual,” McGrath says. “Our findings support the use of age-specific risk prediction scores for dementia instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.”

The study in the journal Neurology offers hope of a screening program to identify vulnerable individuals. Detecting dementia early is vital to developing treatments. Drugs trials have failed to date because they are given to patients after the disease has already taken hold.

Current drugs can treat the symptoms, but not the cause. Researchers note that most of the participants were white. They caution that the results may not apply to people of other ethnicities.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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