A Clue Into the Forgetfulness of Old Age

Preeclampsia during pregnancy and cognitive decline in old age may be linked

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Understanding how and why some people's brains deteriorate as they grow into old age involves many possible factors. It may even be linked to a baby's brain before birth.

A recent study has found a link between women with pre-eclampsia during pregnancy and the cognitive decline of their sons in later life.

The strongest decline in the test was found on math skills.

About 55 percent of all the men had a decline in their cognitive ability, and those born to women with pre-eclampsia had a slightly greater overall cognitive decline. 

"Attend all prenatal appointments."

The study, led by Soile Tuovinen, MA, of the Institute of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Helsinki's Hospital for Children and Adolescents in Finland, looked at the long-term cognitive functioning of children born to mothers with pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication that involves high blood pressure and protein in a woman's urine. It can be dangerous if untreated, but the only treatment is to have the baby.

The researchers looked at the pregnancies of the mothers of 398 men who were part of the Helsinki Birth Cohort 1934-1944.

Each of these men had their cognitive skills tested twice with the Finnish Defence Forces basic ability test. This test measures verbal, math and visual-spatial reasoning skills with 40 multiple-choice questions in each of the three sections.

The first testing time occurred when they were around age 20 during required military service. The second time occurred when they were an average of 69 years old.

Men who were born to women with high blood pressure during their pregnancy scored 4.36 points lower on the test the second time compared to men whose mothers had normal pregnancies. The test's raw scores are given on a scale of 0 to 40.

However, the margin of error in the data for overall cognitive decline is broad, so additional research could offer more information about this link.

The two groups of men were similar in terms of their other major characteristics, such as their birth year, their mother's age, their father's occupation and their highest level of education.

A slightly higher percentage of the men born to women with pre-eclampsia were born premature or underweight, which is not uncommon for babies born to women with pre-eclampsia.

The researchers did not test for a possible association between those factors and cognitive performance.

The study was published October 9 in the journal Neurology. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

The research was funded by the Academy of Finland, the European Science Foundation (EuroSTRESS), the University of Helsinki, the British Heart Foundation, the Finnish Foundation of Cardiovascular Research, the Finnish Diabetes Research Foundation, the Finnish Medical Society, Finska Läkaresällskapet, the National Doctoral Programme of Psychology, the Päivikki and Sakari Sohlberg Foundation, the Juho Vainio Foundation, the Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation, the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation, the Jalmari and Rauha Ahokas Foundation, the Emil Aaltonen Foundation, the Finnish Ministry of Education and the Finnish Foundation for Paediatric Research.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 21, 2012
Last Updated:
October 22, 2012