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Adverse Cardiovascular Risk Factor Profile from Childhood to Midlife Associates with Poor Cognitive Performance

10.05.2021

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 cholesterol, and obesity, from childhood to midlife are associated with poor cognitive performance in midlife. Importantly, the worse the cardiovascular risk factor profile and the higher the number of the risk factors was, the poorer cognitive performance was observed.

Cognitive deficits, such as difficulties in memory and learning, are globally common in the aging population. Cardiovascular risk factors contribute to the occurrence of these deficits. It is known that the diseases that are the most common causes for cognitive deficits, such as Alzheimer’s disease, might have a very long preclinical phase before the onset of the detectable symptoms. Results from a longitudinal Finnish study showed that cardiovascular risk factors may begin to exert their influence on cognitive performance already since childhood.

‒ Our study offers novel information on adverse cardiovascular risk factor profiles from childhood to midlife which interestingly are associated with poor midlife cognitive performance, says Doctoral Candidate Juuso Hakala from the Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Turku.

High blood pressure, elevated serum cholesterol levels, and obesity are factors that are modifiable e.g. through healthy lifestyle choices. 

– Therefore, this study brings evidence that support identifying persons with adverse cardiovascular risk factor profiles since childhood in order to recognize those who have higher risk for poor cognitive performance in midlife, and would thereby, benefit from interventions and lifestyle modifications focused on cardiovascular risk reduction, Hakala adds.

Research Results Help in Focusing Interventions

The cognitive performance of over 2,000 participants was measured at the age of 34–49 years. The results showed that participants who have always had high systolic blood pressure or serum total cholesterol had worse learning ability and poorer memory compared to the participants with consistently low values. Always overweight or obese participants had worse visual processing and sustained attention in midlife compared with the participants who had normal body weight since childhood.

– The key finding in the study was that longitudinal accumulation of several cardiovascular risk factors since childhood was associated with poorer episodic memory and associative learning, longer reaction and movement time as well as with worse visual processing and sustained attention in midlife. Therefore, this study highlights that controlling cardiovascular risk factor levels since childhood may reflect into better cognitive health in midlife, says adjunct professor Suvi Rovio, the senior researcher leading the cognitive function research within the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. 

The 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. The researchers of the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study have studied 3,596 participants repeatedly for over 31 years for their cardiovascular risk factors from childhood to midlife.

The results were published in the Circulation on 10 May 2021.

Created 10.05.2021 | Updated 10.05.2021