Past research has linked poor heart health with an increased risk of dementia. A new study, though, finds that having several different types of heart issues may be a bigger predictor of dementia than even genetic risk.
A team led by researchers from the University of Exeter and Oxford University examined the health records of more than 200,000 people to better understand the link between heart conditions and later dementia diagnoses. The findings, published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity, show that the more heart conditions a person had, the higher their dementia risk. They also found that the presence of several of these conditions made a person three times as likely to develop dementia as those who merely had a genetic predisposition.
Dr. Xin You Tai, lead author and doctoral student at University of Oxford, says, “Dementia is a major global issue, with predictions that 135 million worldwide will have the devastating condition by 2050. We found that having such heart-related conditions is linked to dementia risk to a greater extent than genetic risk. So whatever genetic risk you were born with, you can potentially make a big impact on reducing risk of dementia by looking after heart and metabolic health throughout life.”
The heart conditions researchers examined in this study were diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. Along with these health issues, they looked for dementia diagnoses among more than 200,000 adults aged 60 and older in the U.K. Biobank, a largescale biomedical database with information on half a million participants in the United Kingdom.
Of the participants included in this study, nearly 20,000 had been diagnosed with one of the three heart conditions, with just over 2,000 living with two and 122 with all three. After gathering this information, the team then divided all 200,000 participants into three genetic risk categories ranging from high to low.
In addition to finding that people with all three heart conditions had triple the risk of developing dementia as those with a high genetic risk and none of the other conditions, they learned that those with more than one condition had widespread damage in the brain, while those with a high genetic risk had deterioration in specific areas.
Dr. Kenneth M. Langa, study co-author and professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, says, “Our research indicates that protecting the heart throughout life likely also has significant benefits for the brain. To look after your heart, you can engage in regular exercise, eat a healthy diet and do everything possible to ensure blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels fall within guidelines.”
The team also encouraged anyone with concerns about their heart health to talk to their doctor.