According to a major new study, having many cardiac issues is connected to a higher risk of dementia than having a high hereditary risk.
The study, led by Oxford University and the University of Exeter, is one of the largest to look at the relationship between many heart-related illnesses and dementia, and one of the few to look at the difficult problem of several health disorders. The study, published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity, examined data from more than 200,000 persons in the UK Biobank who were 60 or older and of European ancestry.
The multinational study team looked for people who had been diagnosed with diabetes, stroke, or a heart attack, or any combination of the three, and then went on to acquire dementia.
The researchers discovered that the more of these three disorders a person possessed, the greater their chance of dementia. People with all three disorders were three times more likely to acquire dementia than those with a low hereditary risk.
Dr Xin You Tai, Lead Author and Doctoral Student at University of Oxford, said: “Dementia is a major global issue, with predictions that 135 million worldwide will have the devastating condition by 2050. We found that having such heart-related conditions is linked to dementia risk to a greater extent than genetic risk. So whatever genetic risk you were born with, you can potentially make a big impact on reducing risk of dementia by looking after heart and metabolic health throughout life.”
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The team, which comprised researchers from the universities of Glasgow and Michigan, discovered that over 20,000 of the UK Biobank people they analysed had one of the three disorders. A little more than 2,000 people had two conditions, and 122 had all three.
Professor David Llewellyn, Senior Author, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Clinical Health at the University of Exeter, said: “Many studies look at the risk of a single condition in relation to dementia, but health is more complex than that. We know that many patients actually have a range of conditions. Our study tells us that for people who have a diagnosis of diabetes, stroke or a heart attack it is particularly important to look after their health and ensure they are on the right treatment, to prevent further problems as well as to reduce their dementia risk.”
Based on a thorough risk score that reflected several genetic risk features relevant to persons of European heritage, the researchers categorised the 200,000 participants into three genetic risk groups ranging from high to low. They also obtained brain imaging data for over 12,000 patients and discovered substantial brain damage in those who had more than one cardiometabolic disease. High genetic risk, on the other hand, was connected to degradation only in certain areas of the brain.
Dr Kenneth M. Langa, Study Co-author, Professor of Medicine at the University of Michigan and Veteran Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System, said: “Our research indicates that protecting the heart throughout life likely also has significant benefits for the brain. To look after your heart, you can engage in regular exercise, eat a healthy diet and do everything possible to ensure blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels fall within guidelines.”
Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The evidence is clear that what’s good for your heart is also good for your head. A person’s risk of developing dementia is a complex mix of their age, their genes, and aspects of their lifestyle. In this study, researchers looked at data from a population of 60 years and older, including whether they had particular heart conditions, information about their genetics, and how these affected their risk of developing dementia. They found that people with multiple heart health conditions were even more likely to develop dementia than people who had an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease due to their genetics.”
“These findings reiterate the importance of treating the causes of poor heart health, not just for its own sake, but also the added benefit in terms of reducing the number of dementia cases. From the generosity of our supporters who enabled us to fund this work, to the selflessness of the volunteers that made it possible, we want to say thank you, without you research like this cannot take place.
“If anyone is worried about the health of your heart or your brain, please speak to your doctor.”
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