In a new study, researchers found people in their 20s and 30s who have health issues such as high blood pressure, obesity and high blood glucose levels may be more likely to have problems with thinking and memory skills decades later than those without these health issues.
These results suggest that early adulthood may be a critical time for the relationship between these health issues and late-life cognitive skills.
It’s possible that treating or modifying these health issues in early adulthood could prevent or reduce problems with thinking skills in later life.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of California, San Francisco.
In the study, the team used the results of four previous studies with a total of 15,000 people from age 18 to 95 who were followed from 10 to 30 years.
They looked to see whether heart problems in early adulthood, middle age and late-life were associated with a greater decline in late-life scores on the thinking and memory tests.
The results showed that having high BMI, high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels in early adulthood was linked to the greatest change in thinking skills or a doubling of the average rate of decline over 10 years.
Having high total cholesterol at any time period was not linked to a greater decline in thinking skills.
People who had a BMI higher than 30, which is considered obese, in their 20s and 30s had scores on thinking tests that were about three to four points worse over a 10-year period than people who had a BMI in the normal range.
This was twice the rate of cognitive decline.
The findings were similar for people whose systolic blood pressure, or the upper number in a reading, was higher than 140 mmHg in their 20s and 30s.
Few people had high blood glucose levels in their 20s and 30s, but those who did had even greater cognitive decline, with scores decreasing by nine to 10 points.
The team says with more young people developing diabetes and obesity in early adulthood, along with higher levels of heart problems, this could have significant public health implications for cognitive health in late life.
The impact of reducing these risk factors could be substantial.
The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health.
The study is published in Neurology. One author of the study is Kristine Yaffe, MD.
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