NEWS | July 30, 2020

African Americans with early-life cardiovascular disease risks have worse late-life cognitive function

Conference presentation points to the need for heart- and brain-health outreach to younger populations

(SACRAMENTO)

African Americans with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risks prior to or during mid-life tend to have worse cognition when they age than those with no CVD risks, according to UC Davis Health research presented today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference

African Americans with cardiovascular disease risks early in life have greater risks for cognitive decline later in life. African Americans with cardiovascular disease risks early in life have greater risks for cognitive decline later in life.

Postdoctoral fellow Kristen George shared the findings — based on the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR) — which indicate that CVD risk factors as early as adolescence influence late-life brain health in African Americans. 

“Our findings suggest that efforts to promote heart-and brain-healthy lifestyles must include younger adults and even adolescents who may be especially susceptible to the negative long-term effects of poor cardiovascular health on the brain,” George said. 

George’s study included STAR participants: 676 African Americans older than 50, with an average age of 68. Their cognition was measured using tests of memory and executive function. All had previously completed health checkups during adolescence, young adulthood and/or mid-life that included body mass index, blood pressure, blood glucose and serum total cholesterol. 

The results showed that African Americans who were older than 50 and had diabetes, high blood pressure or at least two other CVD risks from adolescence to mid-life performed worse on memory tests and executive functions than their peers with no CVD-related risks. 

Prior to STAR, little was known about the connection between cardiovascular health and brain health in African Americans across their lifespans. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by Rachel Whitmer, professor of public health sciences and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at UC Davis. 

Whitmer’s research aims to identify and understand risk and protective factors for cognitive and brain aging in populations at high risk for dementia, including ethnic minority groups and those with chronic disease. More information is at rachelwhitmer.ucdavis.edu/star

Details about UC Davis Health, including its Department of Public Health Sciences and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, are at health.ucdavis.edu.