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Childhood exposure to cardiovascular risk factors impairs learning and memory in midlife

May 03, 2017

A Finnish study coordinated by the Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Turku shows that exposure to cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated serum LDL-cholesterol and smoking in childhood and adolescence, is associated with poorer learning ability and memory in middle age.

With the aging population, cognitive deficits, such as difficulties in learning and memory, are becoming more common. Cardiovascular risk factors contribute to the occurrence of these deficits. Results from a longitudinal Finnish study show that the effects of cardiovascular risk factors on the brain begin already long before the occurrence of visible changes in cognitive performance.

- Previous studies have focused on adulthood and old age, whereas this study brings novel information on the associations between cardiovascular risk factors and cognitive performance throughout the whole lifespan, says Senior Researcher Suvi Rovio from the Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Turku.

The results of this study can be exploited by turning the focus of prevention of the cardiovascular risk factors actively to children and adolescence in order to promote brain health in adulthood. High blood pressure, elevated serum cholesterol levels and smoking can be regulated through healthy lifestyle choices.

The cognitive performance of over 2,000 participants was measured at the age of 34-49 years. The results showed that high blood pressure and serum LDL-cholesterol level measured in childhood and adolescence as well as smoking in adolescence were associated with poorer cognitive performance in midlife.

This association remained regardless of the presence of such risk factors in adulthood. The difference in cognitive performance between those participants whose risk factor levels often exceeded the guideline values for cardiovascular risk factors and those always remaining within the guideline values was equivalent to the difference caused by six years of aging.

This study is part of the ongoing national Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study coordinated by the Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Turku. Initially, 3,596 participants have been followed up repeatedly for 31 years for their cardiovascular risk factors from childhood to adulthood.
-end-
The results were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in May 2017.

Original publication:

Cardiovascular Risk Factors From Childhood and Midlife Cognitive Performance
The Young Finns Study
Suvi P. Rovio et al.
Journal of the American College of Cardiology
Volume 69, Issue 18, May 2017
DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.02.060

University of Turku

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