Early Warning Signs of Cognitive Impairment Provide Opportunity to Act

New research suggests indications of cognitive decline associated with aging may surface during midlife.

Recognition of these warning signs may allow individuals to modify behavior and lower their risk of cognitive deficits later in life.

As presented at American College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual meeting, researchers say that signs of cognitive decline related to aging populations may emerge many years earlier.

The study suggests that early signs of cognitive decline are already present for some individuals during midlife, and that they are linked with risk factors such as elevated blood pressure.

Researchers content that if risk factors are identified and modified early on, it could be possible to help detect and prevent the progression of age-related cognitive deficits.

As the population ages, dementia and other conditions related to significant cognitive decline (Alzheimer’s) along with neurodegenerative disorders (Parkinson’s) are becoming the major causes of disability in the elderly.

These issues are a major public health concern currently and the burden is expected to escalate as the Baby Boomer population transits into senior status.

Although many of these conditions take decades to develop, a key step to prevent the downward spiral of cognitive decline is to identify risk factors earlier in life, so that they can be targeted and modified.

Researchers studied a cohort of 3,499 biracial adults who were followed since early adulthood (ages 18-30 years) through midlife (ages 43-55 years).

Kristine Yaffe and colleagues at the University of California San Francisco examined the role of chronic exposure to cardiovascular risk factors (e.g. high blood pressure and fasting glucose levels) and lifestyle behaviors (e.g. diet, exercise) as predictors of cognitive decline during midlife.

They found the cumulative exposure to some of these risk factors, including elevated, but still normal blood pressure, and low physical activity over the 25 years of the study, were associated with worse cognitive performance in midlife.

What is unique about these findings is that they provide evidence that changes in cognition can be detected during midlife (or even in young adults), and that they are associated with cumulative exposure to modifiable risk factors.

Thus, these findings suggest that prevention strategies should target these risk factors to stop or reduce the progression of cognitive decline as early as possible.

Researchers believe the findings are important as they show that warning signs for cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative disorders, often occur many years before they are diagnosed.

The understanding that processes of cumulative risk for cognitive diseases of aging start early in adulthood provides a real opportunity for early identification and the use of prevention interventions for those at risk.

Source: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology/EurekAlert