New Studies Link Early Illness and School Performance to Increased Risk of Dementia

New Studies Link Early Illness and School Performance to Increased Risk of Dementia

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There is growing evidence that what happens early in a person's life can impact their future risk of developing dementia.

Alzheimer’s experts from around the world are gathered in Washington, D.C. this week for the annual conference of the Alzheimer’s Association.

On Monday, they saw the results of  the first large scale study of its kind that shows that people who had type 1, or juvenile diabetes were 93 percent more likely to get dementia later in life.

Dr. Brian Heppard, medical director at OPTUM/United Health Group and board chair of the Rochester chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said researchers aren’t certain why this association exists.

"Some thought is that the way our bodies metabolize or process glucose - sugars in the brain - may have a role in developing dementia," Heppard said.

Two Swedish studies showed connection between how well a person performed in school at the age of 9 and 10 and an increased risk of dementia years later.

The group that was at the lowest risk for dementia was comprised of those who had both a higher childhood school performance and a career with significant cognitive complexity.

"I think what it tells us is, if people stay engaged throughout their whole life with activities, schooling, and jobs that stimulate their brain, that can help prevent dementia," Heppard said.

He says the latest research supports the idea that the build-up of a "cognitive reserve" can protect the brain from cognitive decline and various forms of dementia.

Heppard believes there is great optimism that the next three to ten years will bring new dementia treatments, fueled by a dramatic increase in funding. There are numerous drugs now in various stages of trial studies.

New experimental medications have shown some promise in blocking a protein that causes the brain plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

Beth Adams/WXXI News

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