Guest Blog: Poor health and lifestyle factors linked to memory problems at any age

Author: Ian McDonald
Date Published: June 17, 2014
Originally Published: Dementia News

Depression, lack of exercise, obesity, high blood pressure and smoking are linked to memory problems at any age, including young adults. This research finding was recently published in the Journal PLOSone.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) conducted phone interviews with over 18,000 U.S. residents aged from 18 to 99 years, asking about medical history, health-related behaviours, and self-perception of memory.

The researchers found that increased levels of depression, low levels of education, physical inactivity and high blood pressure increased the likelihood of memory complaints, irrespective of age. Memory complaints were also found to rise when the number of risk factors increased, however, depression was found to be the strongest single risk factor for memory complaints in all age groups.

While it is known that these risk factors can increase the likelihood of dementia in later life, Dr Gary Small, UCLA’s Parlow–Solomon Professor on Ageing and Director of the UCLA Longevity Centre suggests that these risk factors seem to impact memory at any age:

"In this study, for the first time, we determined these risk factors may also be indicative of early memory complaints, which are often precursors to more significant memory decline later in life."

These results indicate that modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are also associated with subjective memory impairment, a precursor to mild cognitive impairment. Given these relationships occur in a broad range of ages, the researchers suggest that if these risk factors at targeted early it might mitigate further memory problems in later life and thus reduce the prevalence of dementia.

"We hope that our findings will raise awareness among researchers, health care providers and the general public about the importance of lowering these risk factors at any age, such as getting screened and treated for depression and high blood pressure, exercising more and furthering one’s education," Dr Stephen Chen, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the Semel Institute, and first author of the study.

This article was republished with permission from Dementia Australia Research Foundation at dementiaresearchfoundation.org.au

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Your Brain Matters was supported by funding from the Australian Government under the Chronic Disease Prevention and Service Improvement Fund from July 2012 to June 2015.

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Dementia Australia would like to acknowledge the Aboriginal people as the traditional custodians and carers of the country of Australia.