Do CV Risk Factors in Childhood Impact Cognition in Adulthood?

The burden of cardiovascular risk factors experienced during childhood and adolescence may be associated with worse midlife cognition, independent of adulthood exposure, according to a study published May 1 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Suvi Rovio, PhD, and colleagues looked at 1,901 individuals from the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. As part of the study's 31-year follow-up, cognitive testing was performed as well as regular measurement of blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, body mass index and smoking exposure. These continuous risk variables were evaluated to indicate the long-term burden of each measurement. They were defined separately for childhood (6-12 years), adolescence (12-18 years), young adulthood (18-24 years) and early life (6-24 years).

Researchers found that high blood pressure and high cholesterol in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, as well as smoking in adolescence and young adulthood were associated with worse midlife cognitive performance, especially memory and learning. Study participants with all risk factors within recommended levels between ages 6-24 performed better on cognitive testing than those exceeding all risk factor guidelines at least twice. In all, the difference corresponded to the effect of six years of aging.

"These findings support the need for active monitoring and treatment strategies against cardiovascular risk factors from childhood," Rovio concludes. "This shouldn't just be a matter of cognitive deficits prevention, but one of primordial prevention."

Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, MACC, editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, adds that "Recent evidence has demonstrated that risk factors developed in adulthood can impact cognitive dysfunction in the elderly, if they have not been corrected. The findings in this paper are important, because they show that risk factors that develop at an even younger age can have the same adverse impact."

In an accompanying editorial, Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, FACC, and Norrina B. Allen, PhD, MPH, note that, "These findings extend our prior understanding on the accumulation of cardiovascular risk and cognition back into childhood and suggest that the adverse impacts on later-life health begin accruing very early in life."

Clinical Topics: Congenital Heart Disease and Pediatric Cardiology, Diabetes and Cardiometabolic Disease, Dyslipidemia, Prevention, CHD & Pediatrics and Arrhythmias, CHD & Pediatrics and Prevention, CHD & Pediatrics and Quality Improvement, Homozygous Familial Hypercholesterolemia, Lipid Metabolism, Nonstatins, Hypertension, Smoking

Keywords: Adolescent, Blood Pressure, Blood Pressure Determination, Body Mass Index, Cardiovascular Diseases, Cholesterol, Cognition, Cognition Disorders, Finland, Follow-Up Studies, Hypercholesterolemia, Hypertension, Primary Prevention, Risk Factors, Smoking, Triglycerides


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