Researchers Find "Stroke Belt" States Have High Incidence of Cognitive Decline

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    Location, location, location! It seems that that mantra, which is so linked to realtors and retail stores, also has significance in relation to cognitive decline.


    The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, has determined that people who live in eight Southeastern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) are at higher risk to suffer cognitive decline as they age. That pronouncement is based on new findings from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study that’s been supported by NINDS.  This study, which started in 2003, has followed more than 30,000 people who are age 45 and above. About half of these participants lived in the eight states (also known as the Stroke Belt) while the rest are from the other mainland states and Washington, D.C.

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    The REGARDS researchers, led by Dr. Virginia Wadley, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, discovered that slightly more than 8% of the study’s participants scored low on a phone assessment of their memory, thus indicating cognitive decline. These scientists also found that six of the eight Southeastern states had a higher incidence of cognitive decline than the national average. The odds of cognitive decline also were 18 percent higher in these eight states. The researchers also looked at 438 study participants whose scores on the last two memory assessments rated them as cognitively impaired. The researchers found that using this dataset, the odds of cognitive decline were 40 percent higher in these states.


    The REGARDS scientists also found that people in the eight Southeastern states are 18-50% more likely to have cognitive decline that people who live in other areas of the country. That’s because the population in these states have higher risk factors, such as age, race, and schooling.  According to the REGARDS study, the odds of cognitive decline were as much as three times higher for each 10-year increment in age. Additionally, African Americans as well as people who hadn’t finished high school were up to three times more likely to show cognitive decline.


    In reality, stroke risk (instead of the state you live in) is linked to this cognitive decline. "We think of cognitive decline as a marker for changes in the brain that increase the risk of stroke," Dr. Wadley said. Other studies have found that a stroke (which is a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel that supplies the brain) can lead to cognitive disabilities, including the loss of memory. However, you don’t need to suffer from a stroke; some studies have found that individuals experience cognitive performance issues due to the deteriorating health of their blood vessels, even though they haven’t actually suffered a blockage or rupture.


    So how can you break up this relationship between cognitive decline and stroke?  The National Stroke Association recommends that people who are concerned about their stroke risk should make significant changes to their lifestyle, including stopping smoking or using tobacco, limiting intake of alcohol, and embracing healthy eating habits and increasing physical activity to avoid obesity.

Published On: August 01, 2011