A new study shows that smoking, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular risk factors are associated with accelerated declines in memory, learning, attention, and reasoning. Smoking was linked most clearly with low cognitive performance in older people.
The study, published today in the journal Age and Ageing, looked at adults over the age of 50 who were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) Those who smoked, had high blood pressure, or were at risk of suffering a stroke performed worse than other adults on cognitive tasks designed to measure things such as memory recall, verbal fluency, and attention.
Smoking was the factor most consistently linked to overall lower cognitive performance. Adults with a high body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and stroke risk performed more poorly on cognitive tests, but performances varied across the tests. High BMI was associated with lower scores on the memory test, high blood pressure with lower scores on memory and overall cognitive performance, and high stroke risk with lower scores on all cognitive assessments.
“Cognitive decline becomes more common with aging and for an increasing number of people interferes with daily functioning and wellbeing,” said Dr. Alex Dregan, lead author of the study and lecturer in translational epidemiology and public health at King’s College London. “Some older people can become forgetful, have trouble remembering common words or have problems organizing daily tasks more than others.
“We have identified a number of risk factors which could be associated with accelerated cognitive decline, all of which could be modifiable. This offers valuable knowledge for future prevention and treatment interventions.”
The study’s authors claim that the study is one of only a few longitudinal studies to research the combined effect of multiple risk factors on cognitive decline in older people and one of the few studies to study cognitive decline in older people over a long period of time. Dregan stated that the study could form the basis of future clinical trials that seek to identify interventions for the U.K.’s aging population.