Harvard: Midlife Heart Health Reveals Dementia Risk

Factors that harm your heart may be bad for your brain … 

New research may help help middle age adults lower their chances of developing heart disease and dementia, says a Harvard Medical School professor. 

(Harvard Heart Letter) During middle age, three factors that leave you prone to a heart attack or stroke — high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking — may raise your risk of developing dementia a quarter-century later, new research suggests.

All three things affect your vascular (blood vessel) health.

The recent study, which adds to the growing evidence linking heart health to brain health, has elements that make findings especially reliable, says Dr. Gad Marshall, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor of neurology.

“For understanding the vascular risks for dementia, this study is as close to definitive as we can get,” he says.

Understanding of the roots of atherosclerosis

The study of 15,744 adults aimed to improve our understanding of the roots of atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty plaque inside arteries) and its consequences.

When the study began in the late 1980s, the participants ranged in age from 44 to 66.

Researchers tested them for a gene variant that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

They also measured vascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol.

Over the next 25 years, the participants were examined in person four more times. These visits also included tests for cognitive problems and dementia.

By the study’s end, about one in 10 had been diagnosed with dementia.

Those with the gene variant were twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia than individuals without the variant. But having diabetes — which often can be prevented — in middle age was almost as risky as having the gene variant, the researchers found.

Getting regular exercise and eating a Mediterranean-style diet can improve vascular risk factors and may help lower the chances of developing heart disease and dementia, says Dr. Marshall. Read the full story at Harvard.edu. Also of interest: Cognitive Decline Could Be Reduced With a Mediterranean-style Diet