Migraines are a “significant risk” factor for getting dementia for women, according to new research.
A Canadian study of 679 over-65s living in the community linked the headaches to a higher risk of developing degenerative brain conditions.
The study, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, found the link was strongest for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Senior author Associate Professor Suzanne Tyas, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, said: “We don’t yet have any way to cure Alzheimer’s disease, so prevention is key.
“Identifying a link to migraines provides us with a rationale to guide new strategies to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”
She said identifying a mid-life risk factor for dementia, such as migraines, could allow for earlier detection of at-risk individuals.
It could also help improve researchers’ understanding of the biology of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and dementia.
There are around 850,000 people in the UK with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.
One in 14 people over 65 will develop dementia, and the condition affects 1 in 6 people over 80.
The NHS says the number of people with dementia is increasing because people are living longer and is estimated to be around one million by 2025.
Prof Tyas said: “Identifying predictors of dementia is critical, given the current increases and expected further growth in the proportion of older adults in the population.
“Identifying a midlife risk factor for dementia, such as migraines, enables earlier detection of at‐risk individuals in addition to contributing to our understanding of AD etiology.
“It also provides a rationale for the development of new preventive strategies for AD and treatments targeting migraines and associated intervening variables.
“Implications for clinical practice include earlier screening for cognitive decline in migraine sufferers, as well as more aggressive treatment of potential intervening variables to delay dementia, improve quality of life, and increase the likelihood of healthy ageing.”
In the study, Dr Tyas said: “Identifying risk factors for dementia may facilitate early identification of at‐risk individuals and preventive strategies.
“Migraines were a significant risk factor for the development of all‐cause dementia and AD in this study.
“The significant association between migraines and dementia may be driven by the strong association between migraines and AD.
“This interpretation is supported by the weaker association for dementia than for AD, reflecting a dilution of the association with migraines across all types of dementia including Vascular Dementia (VaD), where a significant association was not found.
“Despite the vascular mechanisms involved in migraine physiology, migraines were not significantly associated with VaD in this study.
“However, the limited number of VaD cases in our study precludes firm conclusions on the association between migraines and VaD.
“Recognition of the long‐term detrimental consequences of migraines for AD and dementia has implications for migraine management, as well as for our understanding of AD etiology.”
Previous studies on migraines and dementia tended to use patients rather than pensioners in the community.
She added: “The significant increased risk of dementia with migraines noted in this study is consistent with those of other cohort studies and in contrast with other individual studies and a meta‐analysis of cohort studies that found no association.
“Additional evidence supports an association of dementia with headaches overall (including migraines) and non-migrainous headaches.
“However, the association between migraines and dementia was significant only among women in models stratified by gender: this same gender effect was observed for all headaches and nonmigrainous headaches.
“The present study reflected this strong association of migraines with dementia in women; it was unable to assess potential gender differences because no male participants had dementia as well as a history of migraines.
“Although the established higher prevalence of both migraines and dementia in women compared with men is logically reflected in fewer male migraineurs with dementia, the absence in our study of any male participants with migraines who developed dementia meant that it was not feasible to assess effect modification by gender.”