A healthier heart can result in a healthier brain.
Studies have long shown a link between dementia and heart disease. Heart issues can even cause a type of dementia known as vascular dementia.
A new analysis affirms such findings, suggesting that high cardiovascular health may reduce the risk of developing dementia and slow down rates of cognitive decline. That’s as compared to older adults who are less heart healthy.
“Available evidence indicates that to achieve a lifetime of robust brain health free of dementia, it is never too early or too late to strive for attainment of ideal cardiovascular health,” the study authors noted in a commentary. “Given the aging population, this positive health message is important to communicate to all members of society.”
To conduct the analysis, researchers observed more than 6,600 older French men and women, who were mostly in their 70s and had generally good health. They evaluated each participant’s heart health based on the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” tool. This relies on seven measures to get a sense of overall heart and blood vessel health.
“These measures have one unique thing in common: any person can make these changes, the steps are not expensive to take and even modest improvements to your health will make a big difference,” according to the AHA.
The measures include:
– Managing blood pressure
– Controlling cholesterol
– Reducing blood sugar
– Getting active
– Eating better
– Losing weight
– Quitting smoking
Over an eight-year period on average, the researchers administered tests to assess their thinking and memory skills. Within that period, they found that approximately 11% developed Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Of the participants who achieved zero, one or two of the Life’s Simple 7 measures, 12.7% developed dementia, the Fisher’s Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation reported. As more measures were added, the likelihood of dementia decreased.
In fact, among those who accomplished five, six or all seven measures, just 7.9% developed dementia. And each new measure achieved reduced participants’ risk of developing dementia by about 10%.
Even in cases where dementia wasn’t diagnosed, those with fewer measures achieved displayed quicker declines in memory and thinking skills.
“You don’t have to be perfect, but each time you add a factor, you reduce your risk,” said Cecilia Samieri, lead author of the study and a professor of epidemiology at the University of Bourdeaux.
It’s important to note that there is a certain kind of dementia that stems directly from heart issues. Vascular dementia is a decline in thinking skills caused by conditions that block or reduce blood flow to the brain, depriving brain cells of vital oxygen and nutrients. This type of dementia may come about following a stroke or other conditions affecting blood vessels, and it often coexists with other kinds of dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are a few important notes about vascular dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association:
– Vascular dementia is widely considered the second most common cause of dementia, after Alzheimer’s disease.
– Symptoms of vascular dementia vary depending on the severity of damaged blood vessels and the area of the brain affected. Immediate symptoms after a major stroke may include confusion, vision loss or disorientation.
– Risk factors for vascular dementia mirror those that raise the risk of heart problems.
– Experts believe that vascular dementia is largely underdiagnosed.