Impaired Brain Function Paired With Stroke Risks

Cognitive decline more common in the stroke belt

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Stroke death rates are higher in eight Southern US states which were named the "Stroke Belt" back in the mid-1960s. Researchers have added a new risk factor to this region - cognitive (mental processing) decline.

A new study shows that people living in the Stroke Belt are at greater risk of not only dying from a stroke, but also experiencing thinking and mental processing problems. The Stroke Belt consists of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

"Stroke Belt residents at greater risk of developing cognitive problems."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established that people aged 35 and older in these eight Southern states are 50 percent more likely to die from strokes than people living in other areas of the country.

The Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, recruited 30,000 U.S. adults ages 45 and older and followed them from 2003 through 2007. These individuals are continuing to be followed for stroke and cognitive decline.

Those involved in the cognitive decline report included 23,913 REGARDS participants who had no history of stroke and had normal cognitive status at the time they entered the study. These participants included 56% from the Stroke Belt states and 44% from what researchers called non-Belt states.

After about four years, 8 percent of participants developed cognitive problems. The risk of impaired brain function was 18 percent higher in people living in the Stroke Belt as compared to those who lived in non-Belt states.

The study was conducted by Principal Investigator George Howard, DrPH and Virginia Wadley, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Wadley suggests that the results from this study can be used to look at regional patterns and help pinpoint risk factors that could be modified. She said the study can also be used to design prevention and intervention efforts that are "geographically concentrated."

Results of this study, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), are published in Annals of Neurology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 4, 2011
Last Updated:
June 7, 2011