We’d all like to lower our risk for dementia—and new research is pointing to maintaining heart health as the way to do it. According to scientists at the University of Exeter Medical School, having a stroke doubles the risk of dementia. But the good news is that there is something you can do about it.
The University of Exeter Medical School led the largest study of its kind, analyzing data from 3.2 million people around the world. They looked at 48 separate studies that observed how dementia is affected by a history of stroke and more recent stroke events.
“We found that a history of stroke increases dementia risk by around 70 percent, and recent strokes more than doubled the risk. Given how common both stroke and dementia are, this strong link is an important finding,” said Dr. Ilianna Lourida, from the University of Exeter Medical School. “Improvements in stroke prevention and post-stroke care may therefore play a key role in dementia prevention.”
This isn’t the first time stroke and brain health have been linked. In another study, a stroke prevention effort in Canada in a population of 14 million that decreased by strokes by 35 percent also decreased dementia by 17 percent. High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are also all risk factors for stroke. Keeping it under control has been shown to lower dementia risk by 15 percent.
In Canada, researchers found that a strategy that includes a healthy diet, exercise, no smoking and high blood pressure medication when needed helps prevent both stroke and dementia. According to Dr. Vladimir Hachinsky, who authored the study, the key to sticking to healthy habits might be looping someone else in on your goals. “If you decide in the new year to exercise, only about 16 percent of people are still exercising at the end of the year,” he told Being Patient. “Whereas if you have a companion who does it with you, 61 percent are doing it.”
A study from earlier this month showed that adhering to heart-healthy practices like maintaining diet and exercise, not smoking, keeping your weight under control and having a healthy blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels could lower dementia risk by as much as 70 percent—about 10 percent for each habit the study participants sustained.
There is no denying the heart-brain connection—it’s why world-renowned Alzheimer’s researchers like Rudy Tanzi have continually emphasized how heart health affects the brain: “It’s never been more true that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” according to Tanzi.
While hearing that anything doubles the risk of dementia is scary, heart disease is a modifiable risk factor, and lowering your chances of experiencing a cardiac event can also help prevent dementia.
“Around a third of dementia cases are thought to be potentially preventable, though this estimate does not take into account the risk associated with stroke,” said Dr. David Llewellyn, from the University of Exeter Medical School. “Our findings indicate that this figure could be even higher, and reinforce the importance of protecting the blood supply to the brain when attempting to reduce the global burden of dementia.”
This study was published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.