Midlife Test May Predict Dementia Risk

Experimental Test, Taken in Middle Age, Gauges Dementia Risk Factors

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 02, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 2, 2006 -- It might be possible to predict dementiadementia risk decades before dementia starts.

Researchers from Sweden and Finland have created a dementia-risk test for middle-aged adults. The goal: Use the test to help spot risk factors that people can change before dementia starts.

Miia Kivipelto, MD, and colleagues describe the test in The Lancet's Aug. 3 online edition. Kivipelto works in Stockholm, Sweden, at the Karolinska Institute's Aging Research Center.

The dementia test covers topics including age, years of education, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and obesityobesity.

Obviously, some of those factors -- such as age -- can't be changed. But high blood pressurehigh blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and obesity can often be treated.

The test's bottom line: What's good for your heart -- like controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity -- may also be good for your brain, Kivipelto's team notes.

Midlife Test

The researchers studied 1,409 adults living in the towns of Kuopio and Joensuu in eastern Finland.

Participants were first studied when they were 39-64 years old (average age: 50) and didn't have dementia. The researchers noted factors including:

  • Age
  • Years of education
  • BMI (body mass index), which relates height to weight
  • Blood pressure
  • Total cholesterol level
  • Smoking status
  • Physical inactivity
  • Status of the APOE gene, which may indicate genetic risk for Alzheimer's diseaseAlzheimer's disease

Twenty years later, participants were studied again. By then, 61 people (4% of the group) had dementia.

Predicting Dementia

Dementia becomes more common with age. But it's not a normal part of aging.

Kivipelto and colleagues spotted five traits that predicted which middle-aged participants would later develop dementia:

  • Older age (being more than 47 years old when the study started)
  • Low education level (less than 10 years of education)
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterolHigh cholesterol levels
  • Obesity

The researchers bundled each participant's risk factors to create a dementia risk score on a scale of 0-15 points. But they weren't able to account for all possible risk factors.

For instance, family history of dementia isn't part of the test. Neither is diabetesdiabetes.

"There is much evidence that diabetes is associated with increased risk of dementia, and thus its inclusion in future risk scores is important," the researchers write.

They call for the test to be tried on different groups of people.