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Could Infections Harm Memory in Older Adults?

Early study found connection between exposure to microbes, poorer scores on mental-ability tests

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"We're not proving causation. There's no evidence yet that treating these infections will help," Wright said.

Dr. Larry Goldstein, director of the Duke Stroke Center in Durham, N.C., said, "This all fits together and makes some sense." He was not involved with the new study.

Goldstein said a variety of infections and inflammatory conditions have been associated with stroke and other vascular disease as well as mental impairment. "There's a big overlap between risk factors for vascular disease and stroke and Alzheimer's disease and cognitive issues," he said. "But right now people can't do a lot about it."

Study author Wright said in future research, one thing they could ask is who goes on to develop dementia or mental impairment. "But that's not what we did here," he said. "We just looked at crude associations with cognitive performance."

He also noted that the majority of the study participants were Hispanic, so more studies in other groups are warranted.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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