We are traveling and seeing more of the snow-bound parts of the U.S. this week. But tomorrow we will be back in Silicon Valley. Of the news today, comes word of a large (n=8,500) study conducted by Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA.
It seems that smoking, cholesterol, high-blood pressure, and diabetes all increase the risk of Alzheimer's - and these changes may wreak havoc years before any symptoms are visible, causing changes in the brain. Exercise and a memory management program can help, but these won't work if the individual does not take active control of their health and well-being. It may be that these physical factors combine with genetic predisposition to make the risk even greater...in that case the time to act is now.
A new study finds that people in their early 40s who smoke or have diabetes and high cholesterol or have hypertension are at greater risk to develop Alzheimer's in their late 60s.
But those risk factors can be mitigated through treatment and exercise, the study suggests.
Alzheimer's can spring from heart and artery trouble, not just from neurological damage, said neurologist Rachel Whitmer, who led the study of 8,500 Kaiser Permanente patients.
"Blood pressure, hypertension, cholesterol - they have an effect on the brain and, apparently, damage it," she said.
The study, in the current issue of Neurology magazine, is the first to show that risk factors can damage the brain 10 or 20 years before the person shows symptoms of dementia or Alz-heimer's disease.
"Lifelong exposures to risk factors seem to change your brain and make you more susceptible," Whitmer said.
Diabetes is the greatest risk factor. In the study, one out of seven people who had diabetes in their 40s had developed dementia or Alzheimer's by the time they were in their late 60s or early 70s. That represents an almost 50 percent greater risk.
Those with high cholesterol were 42 percent more likely to get dementia; those who smoked 26 percent more likely and those with hypertension 24 percent more likely.
When people had at least three of those risk factors the likelihood more than doubled.
There are specific treatments for high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension. But the risk of all can be reduced through exercise and keeping weight down.
"It gives us another good reason to be aggressive about treating these four risk factors," said Dr. Glenn Gade, a gerontologist with Kaiser Permanente in Denver.
"It's another reason why we should keep healthy, exercise and eat well," he added.
"The chance to live a longer, healthier life with good cognitive memory would moticate most people.