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Jun 09, 2016

Heart Disease Prevention Also Wards off Alzheimer's and Dementia

Simple heart-healthy choices could reduce risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s by 20%, finds study.

Simple healthy lifestyle choices like eating healthy and staying active may reduce risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s by 20%, based on research recently published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

Using data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring, this study looked at the impact of heart-healthy lifestyle choices on brain function. Past research suggests that poor vascular function increases risk for cognitive decline and dementia, likely due to a lack of blood flow to the brain. Recent data suggests that one-third of Alzheimer’s cases may be due to modifiable risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

To explore further, researchers looked at the impact of “Life’s Simple 7” on cognitive aging. Developed by the American Heart Association, Life’s Simple 7 includes factors related to cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, smoking, body mass index, physical activity and diet, all of which are proven to reduce risk for heart disease.

A total of 2,750 U.S. adults were included in the recent study, which assessed cardiovascular health and brain function through questionnaires, tests and MRIs. Participants were free of stroke and dementia at the start of the study and were followed for up to ten years.

After analysis, researchers found that achieving “ideal” heart health was strongly associated with better brain function. Adults with ideal health at the start of the study were 20% less likely to develop dementia and 21% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s over the study period compared to those with poor cardiovascular health. Adherence to Life’s Simple 7 was also associated with better cognitive function, such as memory and reasoning.

Findings are encouraging, as dementia has become increasingly common in an aging population. Global rates of dementia are expected to double every 20 years, reaching 115 million by 2050. Findings suggest that simple lifestyle choices like staying active, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight can promote better cognitive aging. With future research, experts hope to refine guidelines and improve both prevention and treatment of dementia.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is dementia?
  • Dementia includes a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking and social skills and that interfere with normal daily functioning. Common symptoms include memory loss, difficulty finding words, personality changes and inability to reason. It’s important to see a doctor if you or a loved one experiences symptoms, as some causes can be treated.
  • What are risk factors for dementia?
  • Some risk factors for dementia can’t be controlled, such as age, family history and down syndrome. However, there are many risk factors that can be controlled, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking and heavy alcohol use. It’s important to address any risk factors you may have to reduce risk for dementia and other serious conditions.

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