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Mid-life chronic conditions and dementia risk.

A new report has described links between living with more than one chronic health condition in mid-life and an increased risk of developing dementia in later life.

The report comes from analysis of the Whitehall II study. This is a long term ‘cohort’ study which involves following the same individuals over long time periods to try to identify factors which might be associated with developing certain conditions. The Whitehall II study recruited over 10,000 civil servants working in London between 1985-1988 and has been tracking their health ever since. We covered findings from the same study in April last year which described a link between getting too little sleep in mid-life and an increased risk of dementia in later life.

This latest analysis took a list of 13 chronic conditions and assessed the numbers of people in the study with these conditions who went on to develop dementia. The conditions they included were: coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), liver disease, depression, mental disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis.

The study reported that people who had 2 or more of these conditions between the ages of 55-70 had a higher chance of having developed dementia when they were followed up later in life. Interestingly the study also found that the risk of developing dementia was higher for people who had 2 or more of the conditions earlier on in life (closer to the age of 55).

These newly reported findings are perhaps not surprising. We know that lots of medical conditions can affect the health of our brain throughout life and so our risk of brain disease later in life. This type of ‘observational’ research can also only identify links between factors – it cannot prove that having multiple chronic conditions causes dementia. However the study, which involved a large number of people over a long time period, does reinforce the importance of managing existing health conditions throughout our lives, including following any advice given by healthcare professionals closely.

Making sure people are aware and are enabled to keep on top of any health conditions will benefit lifelong brain health and may help to prevent the onset of brain disease later in life.

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