Poor health in middle age may speed up the brain’s aging process


August 3, 2011

Scientists at the American Academy of Neurology recently conducted a study to examine how middle-aged habits and health affect the brain later in life, and they found that high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and smoking may be detrimental to an individual's health as he or she grows older. Study participants who displayed these health risks were seen to lose brain volume and develop vascular brain damage faster than those who did not have the same health issues.

"These factors…appeared to affect [the brain's] ability to plan and make decisions as quickly as 10 years later," said lead researcher Charles DeCarli. "Our findings provide evidence that identifying these risk factors early in people of middle age could be useful in screening people for at-risk dementia and encouraging people to make changes to their lifestyle before it's too late."

Throughout the study, the researchers administered tests to measure participants' ability to make decisions and plans, and those who suffered from the aforementioned health problems exhibited much more rapid declines in brain function. This loss could lead to seniors forgetting to take their medications, in which case a medical alert system can be used as a daily reminder.