Certain cardiovascular factors may predict Alzheimer’s

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | July 28, 2015
Alzheimers/Neurology MRI Population Health
What do alcohol consumption, smoking, obesity and diabetes have in common? A new study published online in Radiology found that they might be indicators of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

"We currently do not have effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease, so the focus is on prevention," Dr. Kevin S. King, assistant professor of radiology at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, said in a statement. "In the future, we may be able to provide patients with useful and actionable information about the impact different risk factors may be having on their brain health during routine clinical imaging.”

Previous studies have shown that cardiovascular risk factors are linked to cognitive decline, but this study focused on specific risk factors and evaluated the hippocampus, precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex.
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Researchers at the University of Southern California analyzed the results from 1,629 individuals in the Dallas Heart Study and separated them into two age groups. They placed 805 of them in the under age 50 group and 824 in the over age 50 group.

The researchers then evaluated their data from the initial baseline visit, which included lab and clinical analysis, and their follow-up visit seven years later, which included a brain MR and cognitive test that measured mild cognitive impairment and preclinical Alzheimer’s.

They compared the initial visit with the MR and cognitive scores, and were able to determine the relationship that the specific cardiovascular risk factors had with smaller volumes in the three targeted brain regions.

Alcohol use and diabetes were linked to small total brain volume and smoking and obesity were associated with reduced volumes of the posterior cingulate cortex. In addition, lower hippocampal mass was linked to alcohol use and smoking, and reduced precuneus size was associated with alcohol use, obesity, and high fasting blood glucose numbers.

They also found that in patients age 50 and over, reduced hippocampal and precuneus volumes might be early risk signs for cognitive decline, but smaller posterior cingulate volumes are better predictors in patients younger than age 50.

King believes that more studies are needed to better identify the impact that certain cardiovascular risk factors have on the brain, and improve patients’ understanding of brain diseases.

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