Thyroid hormone problem is linked to cognitive decline in older adults

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A recent study from Johns Hopkins Medicine highlights a concerning link between too much thyroid hormone and the risk of cognitive disorders in older adults.

This condition, known as thyrotoxicosis, can arise both from taking too much thyroid medication (exogenous thyrotoxicosis) or from thyroid diseases such as hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease (endogenous thyrotoxicosis).

Thyroid hormones are crucial for regulating body functions like metabolism, but an excess can lead to various health problems, including cognitive issues.

While previous research suggested a possible connection between elevated thyroid hormone levels and cognitive impairments, the findings were not definitive, and many studies did not consider the effects of exogenous thyrotoxicosis.

To fill these research gaps, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine analyzed electronic health records from 65,931 seniors, aged 65 and above, who received care in their health system from 2014 to 2023.

They specifically looked at patients with an initial primary care visit average age of 71, ensuring that all participants had at least two visits more than 30 days apart.

The study found a 39% increased risk of being diagnosed with a cognitive disorder in patients with thyrotoxicosis compared to those without. This risk was evident across various age groups and both forms of thyrotoxicosis.

By the age of 75, 11% of those with thyrotoxicosis had been diagnosed with a cognitive disorder, compared to just 6.4% of those without. By 85, the figures were 34% for those with thyrotoxicosis versus 26% for those without.

The analysis also showed that the risk of cognitive disorders increased with the level of excess thyroid hormone. Patients with severe excess had a 65% higher risk of cognitive issues, while those with moderate excess faced a 23% higher risk.

These findings are crucial for healthcare providers, particularly when prescribing thyroid hormone treatments to older adults.

It’s important to avoid overtreatment and adjust thyroid hormone doses carefully to prevent potential cognitive decline. Healthcare professionals should follow age-appropriate treatment guidelines to minimize these risks.

The study not only underscores the importance of monitoring thyroid hormone levels in older adults but also calls for more research to better understand this relationship and improve treatment strategies.

This study’s detailed results are available in JAMA Internal Medicine, offering valuable insights for anyone involved in the management of thyroid-related conditions or the care of older adults.

This research adds to the growing understanding of how bodily hormone levels can impact cognitive health, especially in later years.

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