Low birth weight babies linked to higher dementia risk in mothers

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A new study suggests that women who give birth to babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds may face a higher risk of memory and thinking problems later in life.

This discovery, published in Neurology, indicates that having a low-birth-weight baby is associated with cognitive decline equivalent to one to two years of aging.

The study doesn’t prove that delivering a low-birth-weight baby causes memory and thinking problems, but it shows a significant link.

Previous research has already shown that mothers of low-birth-weight babies have a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure.

According to Dr. Diana C. Soria-Contreras from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, this new study adds to the evidence by suggesting that having a low-birth-weight baby might also signal poorer cognitive health in later years.

The research involved 15,323 women with an average age of 62. All participants had at least one child, and 8% (1,224 women) had given birth to a baby weighing less than 5.5 pounds after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The women completed questionnaires about their pregnancies, including birth weights and complications. They also took memory and thinking tests.

Researchers combined scores from tests measuring memory, quick thinking, learning, and working memory.

Higher scores meant better cognitive function. On average, women who had low-birth-weight babies scored slightly lower on these tests. The differences in scores were comparable to aging one to two additional years.

The findings remained consistent even after accounting for factors like age, smoking status, and high blood pressure, which could affect both birth weight and cognitive function.

Results were also similar when excluding women who had premature births, twins, or pregnancy-related high blood pressure disorders.

Interestingly, the study found that the more low-birth-weight babies a woman had, the lower her cognitive test scores were.

Dr. Soria-Contreras emphasized the need for more research to confirm these findings. She suggested that screening women who have had low-birth-weight babies for cognitive issues and promoting brain health could help prevent or delay dementia and other cognitive impairments.

A limitation of the study is that most participants were non-Hispanic white women, so the results may not apply to all populations. Future research should include more diverse groups to see if the findings hold true across different backgrounds.

This study highlights an important link between low birth weight and cognitive health in mothers. While more research is needed, these findings suggest that monitoring and supporting brain health in women who have had low-birth-weight babies could be beneficial in the long run.

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