Nov. 7, 2011 -- A screening profile used to gauge a person's chances of having a stroke may also give doctors an easy way to predict a person’s odds of having future memory and thinking problems, a new study reveals.
This assessment tool is known as the Framingham Stroke Risk Profile (FSRP). It estimates an adult's likelihood of having a stroke over a 10-year period compared to other people of the same age and sex.
In this large study, published in the journal Neurology, researchers looked at nearly 24,000 U.S. adults aged 45 and older (average age 64 years). None of them had had a stroke or memory problems.
A Stroke Risk Profile was calculated for each participant, with a score based on age and blood pressure, and whether the person had a history of heart disease, smoking, diabetes, or atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm). Other factors in determining the FSRP score included whether or not a participant was using blood pressure medications or had evidence of left ventricular hypertrophy (a thickening of the heart muscle, usually related to longstanding and poorly controlled hypertension).
Volunteers were also given a yearly test to rate their memory.
Predicting and Preventing Memory Problems
During an average four-year follow-up period, about 8% of participants had developed memory problems. Being older, African-American, male, living in the so-called "stroke belt," having less schooling, and having thickening of the heart muscle were all factors associated with a higher risk of developing memory difficulties over time.
Researchers also found that all of the elements of the FSRP were significant predictors of future memory problems individually and that people with higher combined FSRP scores had a greater chance of showing signs of memory loss during the study.
"Overall, it appears that the total Stroke Risk Profile score, while initially created to predict stroke, is also useful in determining the risk of cognitive problems," study researcher Frederick Unverzagt, PhD, says in a news release. He is a professor of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.
After taking into account complicating factors, getting older and having thickened heart muscle were both independently linked with future memory problems. High systolic blood pressure (the first number in a reading) also appeared to raise a person's odds of memory decline, even in the absence of heart muscle thickening.
“Our findings suggest that elevated blood pressure and thickening of the heart muscle may provide a simple way for doctors to identify people at risk for memory and thinking problems,” Unverzagt said.
The researchers also suggest that encouraging people to pay more attention to preventing and controlling high blood pressure may help preserve their brainpower later in life.