National Institutes of Health (November 21, 2011): Stroke Risk Factors Linked to Cognitive Problems

Publication Date: 
Mon, 11/21/2011

A new study found that high blood pressure and other known risk factors for stroke may also raise the risk of developing cognitive problems. The finding suggests that keeping blood pressure under control might help preserve cognitive health.

Strokes occur when blood vessels that supply the brain rupture or become blocked. When blood can't bring nutrients and oxygen to brain cells, the cells stop functioning and die. A stroke can cause a host of cognitive disabilities. These include effects on memory, speech and language, and everyday problem solving.
Even without suffering a stroke, people at risk for stroke might experience cognitive problems as their blood vessesl deteriorate. The Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke study was funded by NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) to analyze stroke risk and cognitive health. Since 2003, the nationwide study has followed more than 30,000 African America and Caucasian participants who were age 45 or older at enrollment. The study is led by Dr. George Howard at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

For the latest analysis, the research team examined data on the nearly 24,000 study participants who had no history of cognitive impairment or stroke and no evidence of stroke during the study.  At the start, the researchers assessed each person's stroke risk with the Framingham Stroke Risk Profile. The profile considers age, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems. The scientists assessed cognitive health with a 6-item screening test that required participants to give the year, month and day, and to remember 3 items from a list after a short delay. The test was repeated annually for an average of 4 years. Results appeared in the November 8, 2011 issue of Neurology.

Over the course of the study, more than 1,900 people without an evident stroke showed cognitive impairment.