If you want to reduce your risk for dementia, lower your risk factors for stroke, urges a group of experts in a manifesto published this week in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
Mounting evidence shows that having a stroke at least doubles your risk of dementia. Some studies suggest the risk could be as much as 70 percent higher. Because nearly all strokes are preventable, educating the public on how to reduce their chances of stroke can decrease the rate of dementia cases, say the researchers.
Currently, 50 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. And in the United Kingdom, dementia is now the leading cause of death.
How Stroke Prevention Programs Can Help Prevent Dementia
In 2010, Ontario, Canada, launched a stroke prevention program. Ontario built stroke units, stroke prevention clinics and launched public health campaigns to reduce risk factors among their citizens.
“Our group showed that even if a person had the warning signs of stroke, and went to a stroke prevention clinic, the chances of dying that year decreased by 26 percent,” says world-renowned neuroscientist Dr. Vladimir Hachinski, MD, professor at Western University in Ontario, Canada. “We started to look at what was happening to the incidence of dementia as the rates of stroke decreased.”
Hachinski and his team followed the stroke prevention initiative for 12 years and found that the number of strokes were lowered by 35 percent, while the dementia rate fell by 17 percent.
While the manifesto calls for new international and national public health policies to educate on stroke and dementia prevention, it’s also important at the individual level to know the risk factors and signs of stroke – and how to prevent them.
Stroke Risk Factors That You Can Control
While you can’t control all of the risk factors for stroke, you can modify most of them.
- High blood pressure: Having high blood pressure (hypertension) is the single biggest predictor of stroke. Under 120/80 is considered normal.
- Diabetes: Having the disease increases your risk of stroke, independent of other factors. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and are overweight, all of which increase the risk even more. If you have diabetes, keep your numbers under control.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of stroke, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Losing even 5 to 10 pounds can help.
- High cholesterol: Elevated cholesterol levels increase the chances of blood clots that lead to strokes. Low “good” HDL cholesterol is also a risk factor.
How to Lower Your Risk of Stroke — and Dementia
What’s good for your heart is generally good for your head. Past research confirms that following healthy lifestyle habits can reduce Alzheimer’s risk by 32% — even in those with a high genetic risk of the disease.
- Eat a healthy diet. that’s low in salt, sugar and saturated fat. Choose a Mediterranean-style diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, fish and healthy fats like olive oil.
- Limit alcohol. Consume no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman. Men, no more than two per day.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity like walking a week. But even 40 minutes a week can help.
- Don’t smoke.
- Maintain a healthy weight – and get fit. If you’re overweight, losing even 5-10 pounds can make a difference. Being “skinny fat” is even more dangerous.
- Manage stress. Make time for yourself and for friends. Blow off steam with exercise. And try meditation and mindfulness activities to help reframe the situation and make you more resilient to stressors.
“The advice is you have to exercise, you have to eat properly and you also have to watch your risk factors like high blood pressure, but you have much better success if you have someone to do it with you,” Hachinsky told Being Patient. In other words, when you have an exercise buddy, or someone who follows the heart-healthy diet with you, you’re much more likely to stick with it than if you go it alone.