Study shows cognitive decline is not normal in aging

Finding opens door to prevention by showing older people with atherosclerosis or diabetes in combination with the ApoE4 gene are at much higher risk for memory loss, cognitive decline.

(Sacramento, Calif.) -- In a study that tracked changes in cardiovascular health and cognitive function in 5,888 community-dwelling senior citizens annually over a ten-year period, researchers at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center say cognitive decline is not a normal part of aging for the majority of elderly people. In fact, only people with high levels of atherosclerosis or diabetes and also those with the apolipoprotein E4 gene associated with Alzheimer's disease are both at high risk for a decline in cognitive ability as they age. The results of the study are reported in the July 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Seventy percent of individuals evaluated in this study showed no significant decline in cognitive function over the study period," says Mary N. Haan, director of the UC Davis Center for Aging and Health and lead author of the study. "We found that individuals whose cognitive ability remained constant during the study had two factors in common: they did not carry any of the apolipoprotein E4 genes, which is often associated with Alzheimer's disease, and they had little or no signs of diabetes or atherosclerosis."

In comparison, the researchers found that the greatest loss of cognitive ability occurred in people who had both high levels of atherosclerosis or diabetes and an Apo4E gene. These individuals were eight times more likely to show a decline in function compared to people with a low level of atherosclerosis and no genetic predisposition. Individuals with an E4 allele were three-to-four times more likely to show a decline in function than individuals without this genotype. And those with high levels of atherosclerosis were three times more likely to show a loss of function th

Contact: Carole Gan
University of California, Davis - Health System

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