The Risk Factors For Heart Disease Also Predict Dementia

Mahdere Tena
By Mahdere Tena February 24, 2017 11:47

by Alice G. Walton ,  CONTRIBUTOR

Lots of research has laid out the ties between the heart and the brain, from how exercise and nutrition affect both organs similarly to how they’re similarly affected by stress and depression. And we know that heart disease and brain disease often go hand in hand. But a new study, presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2017, finds that one the greatest predictors of dementia down the road is whether one has risk factors for heart disease in the present. In fact, having diabetes in middle age may even rival the gene variant for Alzheimer’s disease in how well it can foretell the onset of dementia in the years to come.

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“The health of your vascular system in midlife is really important to the health of your brain when you are older,” said study author Rebecca F. Gottesman in a news release.

She and her team at Johns Hopkins University followed over 15,000 people for up to 30 years, beginning the study when they were 45-64 years old. Just over 1,500 people developed dementia over the next few decades, with age being the greatest predictor, as expected. The study also found that certain markers of heart disease were also incredibly strong predictors of brain disease.

For instance, people who smoked in middle age had a 41% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers. People with high blood pressure had a 39% greater risk of dementia, and those with pre-hypertension (slightly elevated blood pressure) had a 31% higher risk than people with normal blood pressure.

But the most startling connection was that people who had full-blown diabetes when they were middle aged had a 77% increased risk of developing dementia down the road.

“Diabetes raises the risk almost as much as the most important known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” Gottesman said. The study also found that the risk of dementia was higher in men, African-Americans, and people with less education.

This of course is not the first time the connection between heart disease and dementia has been illustrated—previous studies have found that individual risk factors like cholesterol and belly fat are also associated with an increased likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. But the new study is quite long term, and seems to be the first to suggest that diabetes is nearly as great a risk factor as having the gene variant that predisposes one to Alzheimer’s. And the finding is all the more relevant, since so many instances of diabetes are preventable. The same is true for heart disease.

Mahdere Tena
By Mahdere Tena February 24, 2017 11:47
rich says:

great!!

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