A team from the Indiana University School of Medicine showed that risk factors for stroke such as high BP increased the chance of cognitive problems in older adults, even if they had never had a stroke.
Researchers also found that people at the highest risk of stroke also had five times greater chance of developing cognitive problems including dementia over four years.
Authors suggested the Framingham score could be employed to predict cognitive decline.
An Alzheimer's charity said high BP must be treated early to help reduce the number of deaths from dementia.
Many common vascular risk factors are associated with cognitive decline and dementia in older adults. So researchers examined whether an existing stroke risk score that takes these factors into account could predict cognitive problems as well.
Researchers used the Framingham Stroke Risk Profile score to rate 23,752 people with an average age of 64 who were free of stroke and cognitive problems. The score determines stroke risk by measuring factors such as age, BP, education level, history of heart disease and smoking and diabetes status.
After four years, 1,907 people developed memory and thinking problems.
Researchers found that the higher a person’s Framingham score, the greater chance they had of developing cognitive decline. Fifteen per cent of people in the highest scoring quartile developed problems, compared with just 3% among those in the bottom.
Study author Frederick Unverzagt PhD of Indiana University School of Medicine said: ‘Our findings suggest that elevated BP and thickening of the heart muscle may provide a simple way for doctors to identify people at risk for memory and thinking problems.’
He added: ‘Overall, it appears that the total Stroke Risk Profile score, while initially created to predict stroke, is also useful in determining the risk of cognitive problems.’
Dr Anne Corbett of the Alzheimer's Society said: ‘This study adds weight to the fact that high BP must be treated early, even if the condition is not so severe as to lead to a stroke. We estimate that effective treatment could reduce the number of people dying from dementia by 15,000 a year.’