Risk factors for Alzheimer's disease could start in adolescence

A group of researchers have discovered that certain risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease could begin as early as adolescence.

This includes cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, too. In many people, these are conditions that start early in life. Dr. Michael Rosenbloom at HealthPartners says these are risk factors that can lead to late-life cognitive brain function loss.

“And so, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, all of these conditions lead to hardening, narrowing of the arteries, not just in the peripheries of the heart, but also in the brain,” said Dr. Rosenbloom, the director of HealthPartners Center for Memory and Aging. “And when that happens that leads to changes in the brain, we call it white matter disease, and that’s superimposed on any other changes like Alzheimer’s disease.”  

These heart-related risk factors disproportionately affect African-Americans. It may be a contributing factor to the data that shows older African-Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia compared to older whites. The Alzheimer’s Association says it points the need to target these health risks within the Black community.

“And I do think our communities of color and the disparities that are out there impact people’s lives so much more than we really realize,” said Sue Spalding, the CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota and North Dakota. “And that’s why our association is really needed now more than ever. That we need to stand up and say that this not right. How can we help these communities, how can we change how this happens and give them access to all the things that they need to continue to reduce their risk for Alzheimer’s.”  

Dr. Rosenbloom emphasized that researchers are still trying to figure out how to prevent Alzheimer’s, but controlling these vascular issues in early adulthood, may lead not only to better heart health and possibly preventing a heart attack, it can also eliminate some of the factors in memory loss late in life.