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Neurological Review
May 2012

Contributions of the Framingham Heart Study to Stroke and Dementia Epidemiologic Research at 60 Years

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Department of Neurology, Medicine, and Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts.

Arch Neurol. 2012;69(5):567-571. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2011.977
Abstract

The Framingham Heart Study, the longest-running prospective epidemiologic study in history, was initiated in 1948 in response to the rising toll of coronary heart disease and hypertension. During the ensuing decades, the study of other diseases, notably stroke and dementia, was added. In 1971, 5124 offspring of the original cohort of 5209 men and women were added, and a third generation of 4095 men and women were added in 2002. The 3-generation structure was used to relate a host of risk factors measured in mid and late life to the subsequent development of stroke, dementia, and cognitive decline. It has also facilitated studies of family occurrence of disease over generations particularly for genomic research. Dementia and Alzheimer disease research has proceeded from the determination of risk factors for at least moderately severe Alzheimer disease in the first generation to mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer disease in the offspring and to studies of the third generation for detection of pre–mild cognitive impairment and indicators of cognitive decline in mid life. These research efforts have been facilitated by genome-wide association studies, biomarkers, and multiple measures of subclinical vascular disease. The tempo of decline has been documented by serial quantitative measures of brain structure on magnetic resonance imaging and cognitive performance by neuropsychological testing. Clinical correlation with systematic neuropathological examinations of more than 150 brains has provided important confirmation of cerebrovascular and brain tissue indices of disease. Identification of persons at heightened risk for stroke, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer disease, and cognitive decline years prior to disease onset may facilitate delay in disease onset and prevention.

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