New study links smoking, diabetes with higher dementia risk

New research has linked smoking and diabetes to calcifications in a region of the brain crucial to memory. — Mixmike/IStock.com pic via AFP
New research has linked smoking and diabetes to calcifications in a region of the brain crucial to memory. — Mixmike/IStock.com pic via AFP

UTRECHT, June 14 — New European research has found that those who smoke or have diabetes are more likely to develop calcifications in a region of the brain crucial to memory, which could put them at a higher risk of developing dementia.

Carried out by researchers at University Medical Centre in Utrecht, the Netherlands, the study looked at abnormal buildups of calcium, or calcifications, in the hippocampus region of the brain of 1,991 patients with an average age of 78 and who had visited a memory clinic at a Dutch hospital between 2009 and 2015.

Researchers have previously hypothesised that calcifications could be related to vascular problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking, which could contribute to hippocampal atrophy, a deterioration of brain cells that leads to cognitive deterioration.

The hippocampus, which is important for both short- and long-term memory storage, has already been a key focus of research into dementia. Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia, has also been linked with atrophy of the hippocampus.

However, less is known about the association between hippocampal calcification and cognitive impairment.

In the new study patients completed standard cognitive tests and had brain CT scans, which the researchers analysed to assess the number and severity of hippocampal calcifications.

They found that of the 1,991 patients, 380 (19.1 per cent) had hippocampal calcifications.

After looking at the association between the vascular risk factors and hippocampal calcifications, the team found that older age, diabetes and smoking were associated with an increased risk of hippocampal calcifications on CT scans.

The researchers also assessed the effects of calcifications on cognitive function, however they were surprised to find that there was no link between the presence and severity of hippocampal calcifications and cognitive function.

There are several explanations for this according to lead author Dr Esther JM de Brouwer, who explained that, “The hippocampus is made up of different layers, and it is possible that the calcifications did not damage the hippocampal structure that is important for memory storage.

“Another explanation could be the selection of our study participants, who all came from a memory clinic.”

Although the study was not designed to conclusively determine if smoking and diabetes increase the risk of hippocampal calcifications, the researchers says the results strongly suggest a link.

“We do think that smoking and diabetes are risk factors,” Dr de Brouwer said. “It is well known that smoking and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It is, therefore, likely that smoking and diabetes are risk factors for hippocampal calcifications.”

The results can be found published online in the journal Radiology. — AFP-Relaxnews

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