Is There a Link between Heart Disease and Dementia?

brain-aneurysmA new study from the American Stroke Association has established an association between heart disease risk factors in middle age and the increased risk of dementia in later years. While not necessarily surprising considering the many established links between the heart and the brain, this revelation is nonetheless significant for cardiologists, neurologists, and patients alike. As Rebecca F. Gottesman, M.D., Phd., the lead researcher at John Hopkins University explained, “The health of your vascular system in midlife is really important to the health of your brain when you are older.”

Details of the Study

The study described by the ASA actually began years ago in 1987, with 15,744 people in four U.S. communities. It was no surprise to researchers that participants demonstrated increased risk of dementia with age, and 1,516 study participants ultimately developed dementia later in life. However, the links between the development of dementia and the heart health of those 1,516 study participants in midlife spoke volumes. The risk of dementia was 41 percent higher for midlife smokers than non or former smokers, 39 percent higher for people with high blood pressure in middle age, and a whopping 77 percent higher for those with diabetes in midlife.

To put that into perspective, according to Gottesman, “Diabetes raises the risk [of dementia] almost as much as the most important known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.”

What Does This Mean For Brain Health?

This study once again proves that healthy lifestyle choices can positively impact cognitive functions as well. Any actions taken to protect the heart will also protect the brain: exercise, a healthy diet, losing weight, quitting smoking, minimizing stress, and taking control of diabetes, to name a few. The knowledge that middle age health could negatively or positively impact the future could propel more people to make better lifestyle choices.