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Stroke risk factors may also foretell cognitive problems

November 08, 2011|By Dalina Castellanos, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog
  • Factors raising risk of stroke may also raise the risk of memory loss and dementia, a study finds.
Factors raising risk of stroke may also raise the risk of memory loss and… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

Factors that place people at risk for stroke -- including long-term high blood pressure -- could also contribute to memory and thinking problems, a new study finds.

Researchers followed more than 23,000 people in the contiguous 48 states and assessed their likelihood of having a stroke. Evaluations were made using the Framingham Stroke Risk Profile (FSRP), which estimates an adult’s 10-year risk of having a stroke by measuring his or her age, blood pressure and whether he or she has diabetes, a history of heart disease or a thickening of the heart muscle.

Volunteers in the investigation, known as the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, were also given an annual test to rate their memory.

Those who scored higher on the risk profile were most likely to develop cognitive impairment over an average of four years, the authors found -- and the higher the score, the higher the risk.

The findings, published in the journal Neurology, can give doctors an easy way to identify people at risk for memory problems, said Fred Unverzagt, a co-investigator for the study and professor of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. Early detection and treatment of poorly regulated blood pressure can nip these issues in the bud through good medical management, he said.

The study also found that being older, African American, male or living in the American Southeast --or “stroke belt” -- places people at higher risk of developing memory loss over the years, said study coauthor Leslie McClure, an associate professor of biostatistics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Most of these factors were already known to be contributors to the risk of stroke, she said, but now it appears they also relate to memory and thinking problems.

"I think this is a further argument for better control of blood pressure and lifestyle factors," she  said.

You can read the abstract of the report here (you'll have to pay to read the whole thing).

And if you want to get a sense of your own stroke risk, check out this tool at the UCLA Stroke Center website. 

Read more health news at the L.A. Times' Booster Shots blog.

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