PHILADELPHIA, PA — Cardiovascular disease risk factors such as midlife obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure appear to speed cognitive decline later in life, according to research reported this summer at the 9th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders (ICAD). The conference was presented by the Alzheimer's Association.

According to another study, eating vegetables like spinach and broccoli may slow cognitive decline. Activities ranging from cultural or political events to doing handicrafts were also found to promote brain health.

“These studies add to the growing understanding that we may be able to reduce our risk of Alzheimer's by changing our lifestyles — losing weight, changing our diets, and staying mentally and socially active,” said Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., chair of the Alzheimer Association's Medical and Scientific Advisory Council. “This study should make physicians and policy makers take notice that they can make significant contributions to healthy aging in several areas by encouraging people to eat healthful foods and exercise more.”

Additional research suggested that minorities may be affected at a greater rate by Alzheimer's disease than whites are. Alzheimer's disease symptoms begin, on average, almost seven years earlier in U.S. Latinos than they do in non-Latino U.S. whites, according to one report.

A study in South Carolina adds to the meager data on racial differences in the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Another study suggests that African Americans bear a disproportionate burden of Alzheimer's disease.

“We are the only state that keeps a comprehensive database of people with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease,” said James N. Laditka, D.A., Ph.D., of the University of South Carolina at Columbia. Laditka and colleagues found that African Americans aged 55 to 64 years were more than three times as likely to have Alzheimer's as their European American counterparts. Laditka and colleagues also found that the highest rates clustered in counties where local populations were more likely to be overweight.

“In South Carolina, we may be anticipating what will happen in the rest of the U.S. as the country grows in girth,” Laditka said. He noted that South Carolina has greater rates of obesity, diabetes, and related health problems than the rest of the country, especially among African Americans.