8 July 1999

Most Elderly Stay Lucid

A new U.S. study has concluded that there may be a link between efficient blood circulation and cognitive functioning in the elderly. It found that most older people do remain lucid. However, those that do not often suffer from clogged arteries, diabetes or possibly the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers at the Center for Aging and Health at the University of California at Davis concluded that treating atherosclerosis and diabetes might slow memory loss and cognitive decline in older people.

The study of nearly 6,000 elderly people tracked their cardiovascular health and tested their cognitive function by asking them to do tasks such as naming parts of the anatomy and folding a piece of paper in half. It also checked to see if they carried the ApoE4 gene that is associated with Alzheimer's disease.

"Seventy percent of individuals evaluated in this study showed no significant decline in cognitive function over the study period,'' study author Mary Haan, director of the center, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We found that individuals whose cognitive ability remained constant during the study had two factors in common: They did not carry any of the (ApoE4) genes, which is often associated with Alzheimer's disease, and they had little or no signs of diabetes or atherosclerosis,'' she wrote.

Those with atherosclerosis alone were three times more likely than healthy individuals to show a loss of function. Those with the ApoE4 gene and either atherosclerosis or diabetes were eight times more likely to suffer a loss of mental faculties.