Iowans who are attending this week’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego are hearing about the latest research into potential risk factors for the disease.

Lauren Livingston, spokeswoman for the association’s Iowa chapter, says earlier studies have shown how pregnant women with high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia may be more prone to heart disease, and now there’s a link to brain disorders.
Livingston says, “Women with a history of these hypertensive disorders were more likely to develop vascular dementia later in life as well as Alzheimer’s and that can even occur 15 years-plus after pregnancy.”

Another new study being released this week builds on the knowledge that racism can cause trauma in a person’s life, bringing an increase in stress levels which may cause negative biological changes, including cognitive decline. She says, “People facing racism may not have as much access to health care because of socio-economic factors and health disparities, so it’s kind of a one-two punch, unfortunately, for those populations who are facing racism.”

Recent studies have also shown how healthy lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, can help to reduce cognitive decline in the future, while the opposite is also proving to be true in new research. Livingston says, “Eating those ultra-processed foods, like potato chips or white bread, things like that, have been shown to significantly, unfortunately, show a faster decline in cognitive scores later in life.”

The Brazilian study found people whose diet consisted of 20% or more of ultra-processed foods experienced a 28-percent faster decline in their cognitive scores, including memory. Ultra-processed foods generally make up about half of the typical American diet. More than six-million people nationwide are living with Alzheimer’s disease, including 66,000 in Iowa.

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