Trouble Breathing Linked to Trouble Thinking for Seniors

COPD linked to an increased risk for mild cognitive impairment in a group of older adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For seniors, having difficulty breathing could be a sign that other medical problems are on the horizon — problems like a decline in memory and thinking abilities.

A recent study found that older adults who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that makes it harder to breathe, were more likely to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — a condition in which patients have problems with memory or thinking.

The authors of this study noted that by identifying COPD as a potential risk factor for mild cognitive impairment, information could be used to help prevent, or at least delay, the development of mild cognitive impairment.

"Speak with your doctor about taking steps to prevent MCI."

This study was led by Michelle M. Mielke, PhD, from the Division of Epidemiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. This research team examined the relationship between COPD and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

COPD is a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe and gets progressively worse as time passes.

MCI is a neurological (brain) condition in which patients have problems with memory or thinking. People with MCI are at greater risk for dementia.

In this study, 1,425 older adults between the ages of 70 and 89, who did not have MCI at the beginning of the study, were followed for around five years.

The researchers recorded who developed MCI and separated the condition into two categories: amnestic, which affects memory, and non-amnestic, which affects thinking skills other than memory.

Every 15 months, participants in this study completed a series of assessments to determine if they had developed MCI.

Several factors were taken into account that could have influenced the development of MCI. These factors included age, sex, education, current medications, smoking status and the presence of other conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression.

In this group, a total of 370 participants developed MCI.

The researchers found that individuals who were diagnosed with COPD had an 83 percent increased risk of developing non-amnestic MCI, but did not have an increased risk for any other type of MCI.

The researchers also found that individuals who had COPD for five or more years had the highest risk (58 percent) for developing any type of MCI.

Dr. Mielke and colleagues concluded that COPD could be a risk factor for MCI, especially non-amnestic MCI, and that this knowledge could be used in preventing or delaying the progression of MCI.

This study was published on March 17 in JAMA Neurology.

Some of the authors reported potential conflicts of interest with Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck.

Review Date: 
March 16, 2014
Last Updated:
March 18, 2014