Dementia can be caused by a number of factors, from strokes to brain tumors to genetics to various other triggers. Now the health of the heart, and the circulatory system that supports, has joined the list of elements that can contribute to the development of dementia.
Vascular dementia caused by poor blood flow to the brain.
Although many people associate Alzheimer’s disease as the main driver of cognitive difficulties, there are many different types of dementia. Vascular dementia is the type thought to be caused by poor blood flow to the brain. It follows that problems with the heart and blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain — the vascular system — would also lead to an increased risk of dementia. Although memory loss can be caused by vascular dementia, its symptoms are more commonly associated with problems in decision-making, reasoning, speaking or understanding speech, and visual-spatial issues.
Heart healthy lifestyle changes also lower the risk of dementia.
The link between a healthy heart and a lowered risk of dementia gained further credence after a 2018 study in France that followed more than the 6500 people who were 65 or older. The researchers measured the participants based on how closely they adhered to the guidelines in the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” recommendations in these areas:
- Managing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar
- Giving up smoking
- Regular exercise
- Having a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and fish
- Maintaining a healthy weight
After eight years, 11.2% of the study participants had developed dementia. But the more participants who had successfully followed the “Simple 7” heart health guidelines, the greater their tendency to avoid dementia. Specifically, among those who followed at least five of the seven factors, just 7.9% developed dementia, with the risk dropping a further 10% for each additional metric.
According to the lead author on the study, Cécilia Samieri, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Bordeaux, “combining optimal cardiovascular metrics can reduce your risk for dementia. You don’t have to be perfect, but each time you add a factor you reduce your risk.”
Start now for a healthy heart and a sharper mind.
Take care of your heart and you’re on the road to a reduced risk of cognitive problems as you get older. Start with a healthy diet and regular exercise. If you smoke, it’s time to quit. Those steps, along with regular visits to your doctor to measure and control your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, can help keep your heart, your brain, and every other part of you going strong for years to come.