Migraines a Risk Factor for Developing Dementia and Alzheimer's, Study Suggests

Migraines could raise the risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, according to researchers. The study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry involved 679 people aged 65 or over in Canada, who didn't have dementia.

They filled out a questionnaire on their medical history, including whether they had migraines. After five years, the researchers checked on the participants, and noted whether they had developed dementia. The sample was mostly made up of women, at 61.9 percent, with an average age of 75 years old.

Of the total, 7.5 percent of the participants developed dementia: a group of conditions with related symptoms including memory loss, of which Alzheimer's is the most common. Out of the dementia patients, 5.1 percent had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and 1.9 percent vascular dementia. None of the men who reported having migraines were diagnosed with dementia.

People with dementia were three times more likely to have experienced migraines than those without dementia. There was no link found between migraines and vascular dementia. Some 23.5 percent of participants with Alzheimer's also had a history of migraines, compared with 9.9 percent of those who didn't.

The link between dementia and migraines, as well as headaches more generally, mirror the findings of previous studies, the authors of the paper wrote.

Dementia and migraines are among the world's most common neurological conditions. Almost one in four U.S. households has at least one person who suffers from migraines. They are most common in women in the U.S., and those aged between 18 and 44-years-old. Meanwhile, some 50 million people around the world have dementia, with Alzheimer's making up between 60 to 70 percent of cases, according to the World Health Organization.

As humans are living for longer on average and more older people will develop age-related conditions like dementia, identifying the potential risks could help to diagnose the disease as early as possible, the researchers wrote.

Dr. James Pickett, head of research at the U.K.-based charity the Alzheimer's Society who did not work on the paper, told Newsweek: "It's interesting to see a connection between migraines and dementia, but as with all observational studies, it must be taken with a pinch of salt since it doesn't show migraines cause dementia.

"We need to explore all options so we can fully understand how different factors may increase our risk of developing the condition," he said. "Understanding more about the impact of migraines on the areas of the brain associated with the early stages of dementia, and how this might affect thinking and memory is important before any conclusions can be drawn."

James Connell, research manager at the charity Alzheimer's Research U.K. told Newsweek: "In this relatively small population study, researchers found a link between developing dementia and having a history of migraines. Some previous research has pointed to a potential link between these neurological conditions but it's difficult to draw any firm conclusions from current evidence.

"Migraines are a common health condition so it's important we see larger studies to shed more light on this association and explore whether factors like migraine medications could affect any link."

Addressing dementia more broadly, he continued: "We know there are things we can do to keep our brain healthy as we age. Staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking only within the recommended limits and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check can all help reduce our dementia risk."

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Researchers have found a link between migraines and dementia. In this stock image, a woman holds her head in pain. Getty