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New study shows earlier menopause plus higher cardiovascular risk may lead to cognitive problems later

April 3, 2024

Earlier menopause combined with higher cardiovascular risk is linked to an increased risk of thinking and memory problems later, according to a new study published in Neurology®.

As a person ages, blood vessels, including those in the brain, can be damaged by controllable cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. These risk factors not only increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, they increase the risk of dementia.

“While cardiovascular risk factors are known to increase a person’s risk for dementia, what is lesser known is why women have a greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease than men,” says lead author Dr. Jennifer Rabin, scientist in Evaluative Clinical Sciences and the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute. “We examined if the hormonal change of menopause, specifically the timing of menopause, may play a role in this increased risk. We found that going through this hormonal change earlier in life while also having cardiovascular risk factors is linked to greater cognitive problems when compared to men of the same age.”

The study involved 8,360 female participants and 8,360 male participants. Researchers divided female participants into three groups: those who experienced earlier menopause between ages 35 and 48; average menopause between ages 49 and 52; and later menopause between ages 53 and 65.

All participants were reviewed for six cardiovascular risk factors: high LDL cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, as well as prescriptions for medications to lower blood pressure. Additionally, all participants were given a series of thinking and memory tests at the start and the end of the study. Researchers calculated cognitive scores for each person. The study found that female participants with both earlier menopause and higher cardiovascular risk had lower cognitive scores three years later.

Read more in the full release from the American Academy of Neurology.