Unhealthy physical conditions may contribute to memory loss

Monday, February 7, 2011; 6:05 PM


A combination of health problems may contribute to memory loss

THE QUESTION Metabolic syndrome - a cluster of health problems that includes high blood pressure, excess belly fat, high blood sugar levels, low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the "good" kind) and high levels of fatty triglycerides in the blood - has been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Might it also play a role in memory loss?

THIS STUDY involved 7,087 men and women older than 65 with no signs of dementia. About 16 percent of them had metabolic syndrome. Over a four-year period, their cognitive abilities were checked periodically, using a series of standardized tests. On tests of overall memory, those with metabolic syndrome were 20 percent more likely than the others to show cognitive decline. They were 13 percent more likely to register decline on tests of visual memory.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older people. Some types of memory loss are normal as the brain ages - specifically recent memory, such as where you put your keys or the name of someone you just met. Other memory problems, such as forgetting how to get somewhere you go often or having trouble following the steps required in a recipe, could indicate more serious cognitive decline.

CAVEATS Whether the length of time people had metabolic syndrome made a difference was not determined, because the information was not available.

FIND THIS STUDY Feb. 2 online issue of Neurology (www.neurology.org).

LEARN MORE ABOUT memory and aging at www.nia.nih.gov (search for "forgetfulness") and www.apa.org (search for "memory").

- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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