Inflammation in middle age may increase the risk for brain shrinkage and dementia in old age, a new study suggests.
The researchers tested more than 1,600 people for five “biomarkers” of inflammation in their blood when they were, on average, 53 years old. About 24 years later, the participants were given brain scans and a memory test.
Compared with people who had no elevated levels of the biomarkers, those with elevated levels for three or more biomarkers had an average of 5 percent lower volume in the hippocampus and other areas of the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. They also had lower scores on the memory test.
The study was published online Nov. 1 in the journal Neurology.
“These results suggest that inflammation in midlife may be an early contributor to the brain changes that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia,” said study author Keenan Walker, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
“Because the processes that lead to brain cell loss begin decades before people start showing any symptoms, it is vital that we figure out how these processes that happen in middle age affect people many years later,” Walker said in a journal news release.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more on keeping your brain healthy as you age.