The risk of dementia in older adults is lower among those with healthier arteries, according to new findings. The findings come from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania where they uncovered those seniors in their 80s and 90s who were free of calcium buildup in their arteries had a lower risk of dementia compared to those with calcium buildup. Aside from dementia, calcium buildup in the arteries is also linked with an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Finding aggressive means to combat calcium buildup “could result not only in increased longevity and decreased heart attacks, but also substantial reduction of incidences of dementia, especially among older women,” suggested lead researcher Dr. Lewis Kuller.
The researchers do not that the study does not reveal that calcium buildup is the cause for dementia, but that hardening of the arteries is associated with dementia.
Dr. Kuller added, “Lifestyle risk factors measured even in pre-menopause, at age 45 to 50 — such as levels of cholesterol, smoking, blood pressure, higher physical activity — are determinants of calcium levels among these older women.”
The researchers collected data from over 500 individual’s part of a cardiovascular health-cognition. The average age at the study start was 80.
Each year the participants were evaluated for signs of dementia as well as calcium buildup in the arteries.
For those whose calcium levels were zero they did not begin to show signs of dementia until seven years after the study began, this was in comparison with those of the highest calcium levels who showed signs of dementia within five years, on average.
The findings reveal two findings: One, if prevention and treatment of heart disease continues to improve people will live longer and there will be a higher prevalence of dementia. Two, risk factors that contribute to hardening of the arteries – atherosclerosis – may also play a role in dementia as well.
“Cardiovascular disease significantly contributes to dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease,” added co-author of an accompanying editorial Walter Swardfager. “Even in those who live this long without having a heart attack or stroke, blood vessel disease can predict death and dementia. To prevent dementia in the very old, we may need to prevent cardiovascular disease or learn to protect the brain from it.”