Midlife inflammation linked to poorer memory and thinking in later life

13 February 2019

Neurology: Systemic inflammation during midlife and cognitive change over 20 years

A team of US researchers found that markers of chronic inflammation in the blood during midlife are linked to poorer memory and thinking 20 years later. The results are published in the scientific journal, Neurology.

Researchers tested a total of 12,336 study participants for five signs of inflammation and then followed them up for 20 years. The study volunteers’ cognition was also measured, including tests on word processing and fluency.

During analysis, the researchers took a number of dementia risk factors into account. They found that the people who had the highest levels of inflammation during midlife had a 7.8% decline in memory and thinking test scores compared to those with the lowest levels of inflammation. They also found that people with higher levels of midlife inflammation were more likely to be female and from a black ethnic background.

Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“This well-executed study is more evidence that inflammation in midlife can play an important role in memory and thinking decline, but we need to understand more about the brain changes underpinning this link.

“Scientists think that drugs that act against the immune system could have the potential to limit damage in diseases that cause dementia and initiatives like the Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance are working to develop medicines that work in this way.

“Although the study did not look to see how many people went on to develop dementia, we know that diseases like Alzheimer’s can begin in the brain decades before symptoms start to show and midlife is emerging as a critical time to take action to promote brain health.

“Research suggests that up to a third of dementia cases could be linked to lifestyle factors but only 34% of people think it’s possible to reduce their risk of developing dementia, compared to 81% who think it’s possible to reduce their risk of developing diabetes.

“The best current evidence suggests that we can keep our brain healthy as we age by not smoking, drinking within the recommended limits, staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.”