Heart Risks in Midlife Tied to Brain Plaques of Alzheimer’s

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Being obese, smoking or having high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes in midlife is associated with an increased risk of dementia later in life. Now researchers have found these five risk factors correlate with the development, years later, of amyloid brain plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, in JAMA, evaluated 322 men and women from 1987 to 1989, when their average age was 52. From 2011 to 2013, they used PET scans to measure their level of amyloid plaques.

After adjusting for age and other factors, they found that compared with those with no midlife risk factors, those with one had an 88 percent increased risk for elevated levels of plaques, and those with two or more had nearly triple the risk.

There was no association in those who developed these risk factors later in life or in those with the ApoE4 gene, which also increases risk.

The lead author, Dr. Rebecca F. Gottesman, an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins, said that amyloid plaque is one factor in Alzheimer’s disease, but not the only one.

Why this happens is not known. “Either there’s a vulnerable period — midlife or younger — or there’s a cumulative effect over the decades.” Dr. Gottesman said. “Or it might be both.”