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Dementia Linked to High Cholesterol

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According to the National Institutes of Health, dementia rarely begins before age 60, and the risk of developing dementia increases with age. Degenerative dementia, which is caused by Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, cannot be reversed. Other forms of dementia caused by brain tumors, metabolic causes, infections, low vitamin B12 levels, normal pressure hydrocephalus and thyroid conditions, on the other hand, can be treated.

The Mayo Clinic describes dementia as “a group of symptoms affecting intellectual and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning,” rather than a specific disorder. Symptoms of dementia include changes in feeling or perception, altered sleep patterns, decreases in problem-solving skills and judgment, disorientation, learning problems, impaired recognition, language problems, short-term and long-term memory problems, motor system problems, hallucinations and delusions, confusion and personality changes.

Now, a new study done by Kaiser Permanente reveals that there may be another cause of degenerative dementia—high cholesterol. High cholesterol is a health risk for both women and men. According to the American Heart Association , women have higher levels of good cholesterol, HDL, compared to men due to estrogen production. However, women also have higher levels of triglycerides, ranging from 50 to 250 mg/dL.

The Kaiser Permanente study followed close to 10,000 people for forty years, starting when the participants were between the ages forty and forty-five. After controlling for factors, like weight, hypertension and diabetes, researchers found a significant link between dementia and high or borderline cholesterol. Individuals who had high cholesterol, which is a value of 240 or more, had a 66 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia. People who had borderline cholesterol, where the value ranged from 200 to 239, had a 25 percent increased risk of developing dementia.

According to the Mayo Clinic, high cholesterol does not have any symptoms. The only way to detect high cholesterol is through a blood test. The Mayo Clinic recommends a baseline cholesterol test at age 20, with a follow-up every five years. Eating low cholesterol food as well as brain healthy food can keep your mind strong. While there is no way to prevent dementia from occurring, catching high cholesterol or borderline cholesterol early can lower your chances.
Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch received her bachelor’s of science degree in neuroscience from Trinity College in Hartford, CT in May 2009. She is the Hartford Women's Health Examiner.

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EmpowHER Guest

good information
by Susan Berg author of Adorable Photographs of Our Baby-Meaningful, Mind-Stimulating Activities and More for the Memory Challenged, Their Loved Ones, and Involved Professionals, a book for those with dementia and an excellent resource for caregivers and healthcare professionals

October 25, 2009 - 3:21pm

Great review on the study. I read about that and found a You Tube video that has an interview with the lead researcher Dr. Alina Solomon. It's an interesting interview, especially the second half where she discusses the effect high cholesterol has on the mind and body. Worth watching!


August 14, 2009 - 8:04pm

Hi Diane,

Thanks for the great response. Since this research is relatively new, I'm not sure they have found if reducing cholesterol after onset of dementia has any effect. But I wouldn't be surprised if that became a new focus of research.

August 14, 2009 - 12:27pm


Thank you for such a thought-provoking post. Dementia and heart disease are both frightening, but I wonder if the possibility of dementia will actually make more people sit up and listen than the possibility of heart disease? At least in some cases.

I think many of us tend to think of heart disease as something that creeps in and that, when we decide to focus on more healthy living, can be completely reversible. So perhaps there is some lethargy, some "I'll get to it later," on the part of people regarding their cholesterol levels. But dementia is frightening because it signifies a loss of control, and because we tend to see it as "the beginning of the end" in many ways.

Any information as to whether an improvement in cholesterol levels -- even with statin drugs, perhaps -- has an effect on the dementia?

August 14, 2009 - 7:50am
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