As more research becomes available, it’s becoming more apparent that focusing on heart health in midlife is crucial for lowering the risk of dementia later in life. New studies are showing that even those who have just a few signs of poor heart health in middle age are linked to a faster decline in cognition.
Dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, concentration, and social abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Having memory loss alone doesn’t necessarily mean you have dementia, but it is something worth getting checked by a doctor, especially if you have poor heart health.
While there is no definitive evidence about what can prevent Alzheimer’s disease, experts suggest that heart-healthy behaviors that are good for your overall health can slow or delay some forms of dementia. So, minimizing cardiovascular disease risk factors could help to prevent damage to the brain that can lead to the disease.
Dr. Rebecca Gottesman, a professor of neurology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, explains: “It’s probably important to control these risk factors, and it’s probably important to control them at a younger age.”
One study led by Gottesman in 2017 found that those with heart disease risks during middle age are more likely to have dementia. The research followed more than 15,000 people in four U.S. communities beginning in 1987 when the participants were 45 to 64 years old.
It was found that middle-aged study participants who had heart disease risks such as high or low blood pressure, were smokers, or had diabetes when the study began were more at risk for developing dementia later. The research found an especially high dementia risk in people who had diabetes in middle age.
In a second study led by Gottesman’s team, it was found that people with heart risks such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and smoking in middle age were more likely to accumulate amyloid in the brain as they age. The more risk factors present, the more likely amyloid was later detected.
Gottesman concludes that the exact relationship between cardiovascular disease risk, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease isn’t clear. However, this research suggests that middle-age heart and vascular health may affect brain changes that cause deterioration.
A healthy heart is congruent with many lifestyle choices, including what foods you choose, exercise, and even social activities. Cardiovascular health can be changed relatively easily, and it is never too late to change the way you eat or add some exercise into your daily routine.