On the good news front, current studies strongly suggest that healthy blood vessels offer protection against cognitive decline. If you are heart-healthy in middle age you’ll also be brain-healthy as you age.
This is a strong reinforcement of the basic principles of heart health. It’s all about lifestyle choices.
In a recent U.S. study – as reported by Reuters Health – middle-aged people with risk factors for heart attacks and stroke may be more likely to develop dementia in old age than people with healthy cardiovascular systems.
As in earlier studies, the current research linked vascular risk factors such as diabetes, smoking, and high blood pressure to higher odds of dementia.
Even slightly elevated blood pressure (called prehypertension) in middle age increased the risk of dementia for older adults.
Although the study doesn’t prove that treating existing risk factors decreases the risk of dementia, it once more reinforces the sound principles of prevention. It’s keeping the wolves at bay.
It reiterates the importance of controlling obesity, preventing and managing Type 2 Diabetes, preventing or controlling high blood pressure (hypertension) and of quitting smoking.
Read on to learn how healthy blood vessels offer protection against cognitive decline.
The researchers examined data on 15,744 adults living in Maryland, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Minnesota.
At the start, participants ranged in age from 44 to 66, with an average age of 57.
➡ Roughly 25 years later, 1,516 people had been diagnosed with dementia, researchers reported to the Journal of the American Medical Association-Neurology.
➡ The oldest participants were about eight times more likely to develop dementia than the youngest people in the study.
➡ Smoking in middle age was associated with 41% higher odds of dementia later on.
➡ Diabetes was linked to a 77 % greater risk of dementia.
➡ Prehypertension, when blood pressure is elevated but not high enough to be formally diagnosed as high blood pressure, was linked to a 31% higher likelihood of dementia.
➡ Full-blown hypertension was associated with a 39% greater odds of dementia.
Most of the modifiable risk factors, such as smoking, hypertension, and diabetes, damage the endothelium – the inside of blood vessel walls – which in time, leads to strokes.
Healthy blood vessels in middle age may help protect against cognitive decline.
These findings reemphasize the importance of taking action in mid-life to reduce the long-term risk of dementia.
This includes quitting smoking along with changing diet and exercise habits to reduce the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.
Both diets emphasize:
- Cooking with vegetable oils with unsaturated fats
- Eating nuts, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, and poultry
- Limiting red meat, added sugars and salt
Physical activity and sticking to a healthy diet, like a Mediterranean-style diet, are powerful tools that can help at-risk individuals lose weight, lower their blood pressure and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Even focusing on eliminating these risk factors before midlife will provide you with an opportunity to treat and reverse them, with the goal of reducing your dementia risk before it is too late.