Feb. 2, 2011 -- Older people with large waistlines, high blood pressure, and other risk factors for a condition called metabolic syndrome may be at greater peril for experiencing memory loss, a new French study suggests.
Metabolic syndrome is a common condition characterized by a cluster of symptoms that can include high blood pressure, too much weight around the waist, elevated blood sugar levels, low levels of HDL “good” cholesterol, and high levels of tryglycerides, a type of unhealthy fat found in the blood.
In the study, 7,087 people 65 and older from three French cities were tested to see if they had three or more of the risk factors of metabolic syndrome, and 16% did.
The participants were given a series of memory tests and tests of cognitive function two and four years later. A memory test, a test of visual working memory, and a test of word fluency were part of the examination procedure.
People who had metabolic syndrome were 20% more likely to have cognitive decline on a memory test than those who did not, according to the researchers.
In addition, people with metabolic syndrome were 13% more likely to have cognitive decline on the visual working memory test, compared to people not diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
Also, higher triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol were associated with poorer memory scores. And diabetes had an association with poorer visual working memory and word fluency scores.
Chirstelle Raffaitin, MD, of the French National Institute of Health Research, says in a news release that the study “sheds new light on how metabolic syndrome and the individual factors of the disease may affect cognitive health.”
These results suggest that management of metabolic syndrome may help slow down age-related memory loss or delay the onset of dementia, she says.
Metabolic syndrome is common in older people and is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, the researchers write. Now, they assert, several components of metabolic syndrome seem to signal increased risk of dementia.
The researchers say that associations between diabetes and cognitive decline “are stronger in diabetic subjects compared with non-diabetic subjects,” suggesting that microvascular disease may extend to the brain in people with diabetes.
The researchers suggest a next step in their line of research might be a large study to determine whether intensive treatment of older people with metabolic syndrome could slow down cognitive deterioration.
The study is published in the Feb. 2 online issue of Neurology.