High biological age is linked to a higher risk of dementia and stroke

It is a well-known fact that people age at different rates, and a recent study at the Karolinska Institute suggests that people with a biological age higher than their actual age are significantly more likely to suffer from dementia and stroke.

As people age, the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases increases. However, looking at the number of life years alone can be misleading.

“Since people age at different rates, chronological age is a rather imprecise measure,” says Sara Hägg, who headed the study together with PhD student Jonathan Mak at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at KI.

Instead, to examine the link between biological age and disease, the researchers used the UK Biobank to study a cohort of 325,000 people aged 40-70 at the time of the first measurement.

To calculate biological age, 18 different biomarkers were studied, including blood lipids, blood sugar, blood pressure, lung function and BMI. Afterwards, its connection with the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, stroke, ALS and Parkinson’s disease within nine years was examined.

“An individual with a biological age five years higher than their actual age has a 40% higher risk of developing vascular dementia or suffering a stroke,” says Jonathan Mak.

The increase in risk also applied when other risk factors such as genetics, lifestyle and socioeconomics were taken into account. The risk of ALS also increased with increasing biological age, but not the risk of Parkinson’s.

As this is an observational study, no causal relationships can be established. The researchers believe, however, that the study indicates that by slowing down the body’s ageing processes, linked to the measured biomarkers, it would be possible to avoid or postpone the onset of the disease.

“‘Several of the parameters can be influenced through lifestyle and medication,” says Sara Hägg.

The researchers will now move on to study the relationship between biological age and other diseases, such as cancer.

The “Clinical biomarker-based biological ageing and future risk of neurological disorders in the UK Biobank” study has been published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

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