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New findings link physical inactivity, poor lung function and high blood pressure in mid-life to development of dementia and disability

2 December 2016

Mid-life risk factors are robustly linked to low cognitive and physical functioning two decades later.

Blood Pressure

The Whitehall II paper has been published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 

Dementia and disability are probably the largest unsolved health problems of our ageing society. At present there is no cure for dementia. Only two drugs slow the progress of the disease once it has developed. Prevention of dementia and disability may be possible by paying attention to our health behaviours and risk factors in mid-life, and evidence supporting this idea is accumulating. 

Till now, we have not known which risk factors are associated with both types of age-related impairment. Previous studies examined physical functioning and cognitive functioning separately. 

We aimed to answer this question using the Stress & Health study by investigating the later influences of 12 risk factors recorded when participants were 50 years of age. Physical inactivity, poor lung function and high blood pressure, came out of the analysis as the mid-life risk factors most clearly and robustly linked to low cognitive and physical functioning 18 years later. If duplicated in other studies, our findings suggest a prevention policy to improve well-being and independent living at older ages, focusing on these three risk factors.

Midlife Risk Factors for Impaired Physical and Cognitive Functioning at Older Ages: A Cohort Study.  Brunner EJ, Welch CA, Shipley MJ, Ahmadi-Abhari S, Singh-Manoux A, Kivimäki M. The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 2016 Jun 6