December 2011

Stroke Risk Linked to Thinking Problems

Known risk factors for stroke may also boost your chance of developing cognitive problems, according to a new study. The results suggest that keeping blood pressure in check might help protect cognitive health.

Strokes occur when blood vessels that supply the brain rupture or become blocked. Without nutrient-rich blood, brain cells malfunction and die. Strokes can harm memory, language and other cognitive abilities.

Your chances of having a stroke are affected by age, blood pressure, heart health and diabetes. But what if you’re at risk for stroke and haven’t had one? Can the factors that affect stroke risk cause cognitive decline as blood vessels deteriorate?

To learn more, NIH-funded scientists studied nearly 24,000 people for an average of 4 years. Annual tests looked at each participant’s cognitive health and likelihood of developing a stroke.

During the study, more than 1,900 people without an evident stroke showed cognitive impairment. The researchers found that high blood pressure, older age, and enlargement of the heart independently predicted cognitive decline.

“Our results emphasize the importance of early intervention to treat high blood pressure and preserve cognitive health prior to a stroke or other cerebral event,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Frederick Unverzagt of Indiana University School of Medicine.