A large scale study has been carried out and the results published in the journal Neurology relating to the use of a tool to estimate a person’s risk of having a stroke or memory problems in the future. The study involved almost 24,000 American adults aged 45 and over, the average age was 64 years. None of the participants had been diagnosed with memory problems or strokes at the commencement of the trial.
The evaluation instrument is known as the Framingham Stroke Risk Profile (FSRP). It gives an estimation of one individual’s likelihood of have having a stroke against another individual of the same age and sex. The estimation is over a 10 year timescale.
During the trial a stroke risk estimation was produced for each person. The resulting number was calculated by taking age, blood pressure, history of heart disease and diabetes, whether the participant had atrial fibrillation, which is an abnormal heart rhythm and whether the person smoked or not. Further factors being considered included whether the person was on medication for high blood pressure or had any indication of left ventricular hypertrophy. This is a thickening of the heart muscle and is commonly found due to longstanding and poorly controlled hypertension.
During the trial it was found that the screening profile, as well as identifying stroke risks also provided medical professionals with a useful tool to calculate the odds of having memory problems or cognitive issues in the future.
The follow up period lasted four years and the participants were given a test annually to assess their memory.
How to Identify Memory Problems
Factors that are associated with an increased likelihood of memory problems include age – being older increases the likelihood of problems, males are more likely to have memory problems than females and being an African American also increases your risk. People with lower levels of education and those whose heart muscles are thickening are all liable to memory problems too.
Within the period of the follow up, about four years, 8% of those involved had contracted memory problems.
The researchers identified that those participants who scored higher in an individual area of the FSRP were at higher risk of having future memory problems and if they scored higher in all the FSPR segments then they were even more likely to have memory loss issues in the future.
Frederick Unverzagt, PhD, who is a professor of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis and carried out the research says, "Overall, it appears that the total Stroke Risk Profile score, while initially created to predict stroke, is also useful in determining the risk of cognitive problems".
When all of the factors are considered, it is clear that aging, high systolic blood pressure and developing heart muscles that have thickened lead to a higher risk of future memory problems. It has also been seen that if the person has high systolic blood pressure, that’s the first number in a blood pressure reading, that they have an increased risk of memory problems even if the heart muscles are not thickening.
All of this has led Unverzagt to say, "Our findings suggest that elevated blood pressure and thickening of the heart muscle may provide a simple way for doctors to identify people at risk for memory and thinking problems".
The researchers also highlight the importance of controlling high blood pressure today with the aim of averting memory problems in later years. They stress that controlling blood pressure could assist in the preservation of cognitive factors in the future.