Margaret Gatz, lead author and professor of psychology in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is slated to present her findings at the first Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia, to be held June 18-21 in Washington, D.C.
If confirmed, the link would add inflammatory burden to the short list of preventable risk factors for Alzheimer's.
Previous studies by Gatz and others have shown that Alzheimer's is strongly genetic: If one twin has the disease, his or her identical twin has a 60 percent chance of developing it.
Stroke and a short period of formal education both increase the odds of dementia, but not of Alzheimer's specifically, the new study found.
Dementia is an umbrella term for many conditions, including Alzheimer's.
"People can plan a life span that will alter dementia risk," Gatz said. "And these aren't risk factors that are unique to dementia. Many of these are also risk factors for other disorders. This is good news."
Gatz's team, which included researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, sifted the 20,000 participants in the Swedish Twin Registry for the 109 "discordant" pairs where only one twin had been diagnosed with dementia.
Information about participants' education, activities and health history came from surveys they completed in the 1960s, when the registry was created, and from hospital discharge records.
The surveys included questions about loose or missing teeth. Gatz and colleagues used the answers to build a crude indicator of periodontal disease.
"We're talking about gum disease, but it was measured by teeth lost
or loose," Gatz said. "It's not perfect. Given it's not perfect, it's
even more striking
Contact: Carl Marziali
University of Southern California