Chronic Inflammation in Middle Age Associated with Memory and Thinking Problems in Later Life

chronicChronic inflammation in middle age is associated with memory and thinking problems in later life.

Inflammation comes in two forms: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the body’s response to infection or injury and is necessary. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is not healthy. It is defined as inflammation which lingers for months or even years. Common causes of chronic inflammation include autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. It can trigger joint stiffness, digestive problems, and fatigue.


Some methods to combat inflammation in the body include getting regular exercise, consuming anti-inflammatory foods, and getting adequate sleep.

Study author Keenan A. Walker explained, “Chronic inflammation is tough on the body, and can damage joints, internal organs, tissue, and cells. It can also lead to heart disease, stroke, and cancer. While other studies have looked at chronic inflammation and its effects on the brain in older people, our large study investigated chronic inflammation beginning in middle age and showed that it may contribute to cognitive decline in the decades leading up to old age.”

The researchers followed 12,336 people for nearly 20 years. The average age was 57. Blood samples were collected and measured for four biomarkers of inflammation: fibrinogen, white blood cell count, von Willebrand factor, and factor VIII. A composite inflammation score was given based on the four biomarkers.

After three years, C-reactive protein was measured, which is another biomarker of inflammation. Based on their inflammation composites and c-reactive levels, participants were placed in one of four groups.

Participants also underwent thinking and memory skills tests at the start of the study, six to nine years later, and at the end of the study.

Having the highest levels of inflammation was associated with an eight percent steeper decline in memory and thinking in comparison to the lowest levels of inflammation. The highest C-reactive protein levels were associated with a 12 percent steeper decline in memory and thinking.


Walker added, “Overall, the additional change in thinking and memory skills associated with chronic inflammation was modest, but it was greater than what has been seen previously associated with high blood pressure in middle age. Many of the processes that can lead to a decline in thinking and memory skills are believed to begin in middle age, and it is in middle age that they may also be most responsive to intervention.”

“Our results show that chronic inflammation may be an important target for intervention. However, it’s also possible that chronic inflammation is not a cause and instead a marker of, or even a response to, neurodegenerative brain diseases that can lead to cognitive decline,” he concluded.

It has long been well-known that having chronic inflammation in the body isn’t healthy. This is further evidence of how it can negatively impact your life.

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.