Does a history of migraines increase the risk of late-life cognitive health outcomes?
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As the Canadian population ages, the burden on our community and health care systems of age-related conditions, such as dementia, is increasing and research in these areas is becoming more critical. Dementia is a major health concern for adults as they age. Although dementia is the most common neurological disease in older adults, headaches are the most common neurological disorder across all ages. Migraines are a common form of headache disorders that affect millions of people worldwide. Both neurological disorders—dementia and migraines—cause significant impairment for the individual and strain on their caregivers, as well as substantial economic impact on society. The relationship between migraines and late-life cognitive health outcomes has not yet been thoroughly explored. Using data from the Manitoba Study of Health and Aging (MSHA), the relationship between migraines and various late-life cognitive health outcomes, including overall dementia, Alzheimer’s disease (AD), vascular dementia (VaD) and cognitive impairment-no dementia (CIND), was examined. As migraines and cognitive impairments are often associated with various comorbid disorders, analyses also investigated the impact of possible associated intervening variables: hypertension, diabetes, stroke, myocardial infarction and other heart conditions. A secondary focus of this project was to examine whether the association between migraines and late-life cognitive health outcomes varied by sex and family history of dementia. Migraines were a significant risk factor for both overall dementia and AD. However, the relationship between migraines and overall dementia appeared to be driven by the significant relationship between migraines and AD. Having a history of migraines was not significantly related to VaD. However, stroke was a statistically significant intervening variable in the relationship between migraines and VaD, indicating that the vascular event, stroke, plays an important part in the migraine-VaD relationship. A history of migraines was not a significant risk factor for CIND. Results could not be stratified by sex because of all participants with migraines, no men developed dementia and only one man developed CIND. Furthermore, despite a lack of significant results from models stratified by family history of dementia, the results are suggestive of possible genetic influences in the relationship between migraines and AD. Overall, this study supports the conclusion that migraines are a significant risk factor for late-life cognitive health, specifically AD. In addition, this study highlights the possibility that vascular events, such as stroke, may play an important role in the relationship between migraines and VaD. Increased understanding of mid-life risk factors for late-life cognitive health outcomes has important implications for researchers and clinicians in the form of interventions, preventative treatments and medications. In addition, this study suggests that there is a need for further research regarding possible genetic influences in the relationship between migraines and AD. As it was unable to be fully addressed in this study, future studies should investigate gender differences among individuals with migraines developing late-life cognitive health outcomes. This research aims to help develop new strategies that could aid in the prevention of cognitive decline, improve quality of life, and increase the likelihood of healthy aging.