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‘Low IQ linked to vascular dementia risk’

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What did the media report?

The media reported a link between childhood IQ levels and a type of dementia, saying that a study by Edinburgh University had found that lower intelligence levels in childhood increased the risk of developing vascular dementia later in life by 40%.

What did the research show?

Researchers from the university’s geriatric medicine unit identified a total of 297 cases of late onset dementia who were born in 1921. Of these cases, 183 had mental ability scores recorded in the results of the Scottish Mental Survey of 1932. These were matched to two sets of controls, one by birth, sex and district of birth, and another by paternal occupation.

The researchers found vascular dementia cases had statistically significantly lower pre-morbid cognitive ability, but there was no significant difference in the pre-morbid cognitive ability of Alzheimer’s disease cases versus controls. Similar findings were reported by the same researchers in 2000.

What did the researchers say?

‘Lower pre-morbid cognitive ability is a risk factor for vascular dementia, but not Alzheimer disease. This suggests its effect acts mainly through vascular pathology rather than brain vulnerability,’ the authors said in online in the journal Neurology.

Lead researcher Dr Brian McGurn, formerly from the University of Edinburgh and now based at Hairmyres hospital in East Kilbride added: ‘Our work suggests a possible link between mental ability in early life and risk of developing vascular dementia. The unique data available from the Scottish Mental Survey means the link can be demonstrated independent of factors like socio-economic status and education.’

What does this mean for nursing practice?

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, which funded the study, said: ‘This research confirms that vascular risk factors are very important in tackling dementia. If we live a healthier lifestyle and reduce our risk of high blood pressure, cholesterol and don’t smoke, then this gives us a much better chance of avoiding dementia later in life.’

Neurology (2008)

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