A study has shed light on successful cognitive aging by revealing that high levels of a protein in people over the age of 75 are associated with a lower risk of dementia in close family members. The findings are reported online on 15 August in the journalNeurology.
Researchers set out to investigate the factors that influence healthy cognitive aging in people over the age of 75. They looked at a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP), known to play a role in inflammation. High levels of CRP have been linked to cognitive decline in midlife but appeared to have the reverse effect in late-old age.
To investigate whether CRP could be linked with healthy cognitive ageing, the scientists studied a group of 277 male veterans from New York who were all over the age of 75 and cognitively healthy. As well as providing scientists with details about their life and health, the volunteers provided a blood sample that scientists used to measure levels of the protein in their blood.
The team collected information about 1329 parents and siblings of the volunteers, to see how many first-degree relatives had dementia. They found that close relatives of volunteers with the highest levels of CRP had a lower risk of dementia. The link was further confirmed in a second independent group of 51 volunteers over the age of 85.
The results suggest that high levels of CRP in cognitively healthy older people could be a marker for dementia resistance, and this resistance may pass through families.
Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of Alzheimerâ€™s Research UK, the UKâ€™s leading dementia research charity, said:
â€œUnderstanding the factors that drive healthy ageing is important for determining why some people are more likely to develop dementia. The findings suggest that high C-reactive protein levels in older people may be an indicator of healthy ageing in that their near relatives appear more resistant to dementia. The next step will be for researchers to learn more about why these family members appear to be more protected, and whether there are specific genes involved.
â€œIt is incredibly important to understand the risk factors for dementia. Delaying the onset or progression of the diseases that cause dementia by even a year could have a huge impact on the families and society. With over 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia, we must invest in research to move us towards a world free from dementia.â€
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