Memory loss has long been considered a natural part of getting old. However, there are actually several serious illnesses that can cause memory loss in tandem with aging, including Alzheimer’s disease, amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and dementia. Researchers have now found another condition that can cause memory loss in older adults.
Published in an online issue of the journal Neurology, the study found that older men and women with a combination of the factors that make up “metabolic syndrome” face a greater risk of memory loss. Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed upon having at least three of these risk factors: hypertriglyceridemia (unusually high triglycerides), lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, excess belly fat, high blood sugar, and hypertension (high blood pressure). Aside from the possibility of memory loss, metabolic syndrome also increases the risk of a heart attack.
The study saw 7,087 adults over the age of 65—2,764 men and 4,323 women—from three cities in France who were tested for symptoms of metabolic syndrome. From those participants, 16% were found to have the condition.
Two years after being diagnosed for metabolic syndrome, all of the participants were given a set of tests, which were repeated every two years thereafter. These tests were designed to examine participants’ memory and cognitive function, to see if they were showing signs of memory loss. The researchers also accounted for a variety of physical and mental differences in the participants, including age, gender, level of education, baseline cognitive score, and other potential variances.
After the second set of testing, the researchers discovered that metabolic syndrome does potentially have an effect on the likelihood of suffering memory loss. Results showed that the participants who suffered from metabolic syndrome were 20% more likely than those without the condition to show signs of cognitive decline and memory loss.
The researchers specifically linked the scores indicating memory loss to two of the possible factors in metabolic syndrome: hypertriglyceridemia and low levels of HDL cholesterol. Hypertriglyceridemia is an abundance of triglycerides—a type of fat found in the blood—which can be caused by obesity, a lack of exercise, smoking, excessive drinking, and a high-carb diet. These are all things to avoid when trying to age well.
HDL, otherwise known as the “good” cholesterol, works to move LDL—the “bad” cholesterol—away from your arteries and to the liver to be properly broken down. When levels of the “good” cholesterol are low, the “bad” cholesterol doesn’t get moved and instead, it can build up in the arteries that connect to the brain and heart. This could potentially lead to a heart attack or stroke.
We now know that metabolic syndrome does, in fact, contribute to memory loss in older individuals. By understanding the factors that contribute to memory loss, people can seek help managing, treating, and even avoiding memory loss as part of their anti-aging regimen.
“Good vs. Bad Cholesterol,” American Heart Association web site; https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/Good-vs-Bad-Cholesterol_UCM_305561_Article.jsp, last accessed May 22, 2013.
“Triglycerides,” MedlinePlus web site; https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/triglycerides.html, last accessed May 22, 2013.
Raffaitin, C., et al., “Metabolic syndrome and cognitive decline in French elders: the Three-City Study,” Neurology 2011; 76: 518-525.