News Release

Diabetes, heart disease, smoking increase risk of death for older adults with dementia

While certain heart health markers increase the risk for death in people with dementia, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, and high cholesterol do not seem to have the same effect on mortality risk

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Geriatrics Society

Dementia (a decline in memory and other mental abilities) is a serious condition, and its prognosis (the likely course of the disease) is marked by progressive loss of cognitive function and complications such as infections and falls. Dementia has no cure, and is increasingly a cause of death in the United States. Heart disease and diabetes, which affect blood vessels and circulation, have similar risk factors to dementia, so it's important for healthcare professionals to understand links between these conditions.

In new research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers reviewed 12 studies that included more than 235,000 people with dementia. They learned that older adults with dementia and diabetes have a significantly higher risk for death (called a "mortality risk") than do people with just dementia. People with dementia who smoked tobacco were also at a much higher risk for death, and those with dementia who had coronary heart disease had a somewhat higher risk for death. In addition, the researchers learned that men who had dementia had a worse forecast for the likely course of their disease than did women.

On the other hand, having high blood pressure, being overweight, and having high cholesterol did not seem to increase the risk for death for older adults with dementia.

The researchers said that their findings raise questions about how to treat high cholesterol and high blood pressure in older people with dementia, since those conditions don't seem to be linked to a higher risk for death. Decisions about treating people with dementia for those conditions should be based on an older person's preferences and whether the treatment will improve quality of life, while also weighing the risks and benefits of treatment, noted the researchers.


This summary is from "The Impact of Vascular Risk Factors and Diseases on Mortality in Patients with Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." It appears online ahead of print in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Irene E. van de Vorst, MD; Huiberdina L. Koek, MD, PhD; Rehana de Vries, MSc; Michiel L. Bots, MD, PhD; Johannes B. Reitsma, MD, PhD; and Ilonca Vaartjes, PhD. The research team is from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit

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