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Memory Loss More Likely in the South

July 5th, 2011

Here in North Carolina, as in many other southern states, we have a higher-than-average risk of cardiovascular disease, leading medical experts to call the band of high-risk states “the Stroke Belt.” Why? Well, no one really knows for sure.

There are a few theories: That people in the south share some genetic susceptibility… that southerners don’t recognize or treat hypertension… that the rural nature of the south means fewer doctors and less-available medical care… that southerners have a distinctive high-fat, fried-food diet that contribute to cardiovascular disease. Regardless of why, the fact remains that stroke is a greater risk for southerners.

Now, a new study suggests that in addition to stroke, people in the stroke belt may also have a greater risk of memory loss and general cognitive decline. Even when all other factors are taken into account, people in the Stroke Belt show an 18 percent greater risk of

According to an article in The New York Times:

None of the people with cognitive decline in the study had had detectable strokes. But some experts believe their memory problems and other mental issues could be related to the same underlying risk factors, including lifestyle patterns that contribute to hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity…..

“This should be a very strong alarm signal,” said Dr. Gustavo C. Roman, who leads the neuroepidemiology section of the American Academy of Neurology and was not involved in the study. The finding suggests that “if you want to keep your marbles, you need to control your blood pressure, excessive weight and other risk factors for stroke.”

The thing all those risk factors have in common is that they can affect blood flow, causing less blood to reach the brain. Without blood, the brain can’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function properly. In the short term, this can mean simple memory loss, but in the long term, it can mean cognitive decline and dementia.

According to a physician quoted in The New York Times, it is a question of taking care of your body and health:

“Those behaviors that prevent stroke likely will prevent some but not all of the things that cause cognitive decline,” said Dr. Joseph P. Broderick, chairman of neurology at the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute, who was not involved in the study. “If you buy a car and you take great care of it, it still ain’t the same 15 years later. But if you don’t ever change the oil and your basic engine grinds down, in five years you can’t drive it and it won’t last very long.”

The goal, then, becomes one of change–changing our health habits for the better, changing the way we take care of our human engine. It’s difficult, but the possibility of living out our final days in a nursing home because of dementia is even more more difficult to contemplate.

To read the Annals of Neurology article, click here:  Incident cognitive impairment is elevated in the stroke belt

To read the article in The New York Times (much more reader-friendly), click here: In the ‘Stroke Belt,’ Erosion of Memory Is More Likely Too