Maintaining a healthy heart and reducing arterial stiffening may help to prevent dementia in later life, study finds
- Researchers examined over 500 older adults to study heart and brain health
- They found out that arterial stiffening earlier in life increased the dementia risk
- Earlier interventions to improve heart health could help to delay dementia onset
Keeping your heart healthy and reducing the amount of arterial stiffening could help prevent conditions like dementia later in life, researchers claim.
University of Oxford and University College London investigated 542 older adults who received two measurements of aortic stiffness, at 64 and 68 years old.
The body’s largest artery, the aorta, gets stiffer with age, and the British team found that faster aortic stiffening in mid-life was linked to markers of poorer brain health.
These markers included lower brain blood supply, reduced structural connectivity between different brain regions, and worse memory.
Scientists say medical interventions and changes of lifestyle made earlier in life could help to slow down arterial stiffening and could prevent dementia in later life.
University of Oxford and University College London investigated 542 older adults who received two measurements of aortic stiffness, at 64 and 68 years old
Follow up cognitive tests and brain MRI scans on the 542 older adults assessed by researchers looked at the size, connections and blood supply of brain regions.
Dr Sana Suri, Alzheimer’s Society research fellow at the department of psychiatry, University of Oxford, said the study links heart health with brain health.
‘Reduced connectivity between different brain regions is an early marker of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease,’ Suri explained.
‘Preventing these changes by reducing or slowing down the stiffening of our body’s large blood vessels may be one way to maintain brain health and memory.’
Arteries stiffen faster if someone has pre-existing heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes and other vascular diseases, researchers say.
Arterial stiffening is also progressively faster with long-term exposure to poor health behaviours and lifestyle risk factors, such as smoking or poor diets.
Scientists say it is possible to reduce arterial stiffening by medical treatments or lifestyle interventions, such as modifying the diet and exercising.
Dr Scott Chiesa, Research Associate at the UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science, said with no cure for dementia there is an increased focus on prevention or delay.
‘Importantly, our study helps us understand when in the lifespan it will be best to target and improve cardiovascular health to benefit the brain,’ he said.
The body’s largest artery, the aorta, gets stiffer with age, and the British team found that faster aortic stiffening in mid-life was linked to markers of poorer brain health. Stock image
Dr Richard Oakley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society – which funded the study – said the number of people with dementia is set to rise to one million by 2025.
‘This Alzheimer’s Society funded study didn’t look for a link between heart health and dementia directly, but it has shed important light on a connection between the health of our blood vessels and changes in the brain that indicate brain health.
‘We know that what’s good for your heart is good for your head, and it’s exciting to see research that explores this link in more detail.’
Oakley said we need even more research to understand the impact of heart health on brain health as we age, and how that affects our own dementia risk.
He said that the Alzheimer’s Society was committed to funding research into dementia prevention as well as research into a cure but coronavirus hit them hard.
‘It is vital the Government honours its commitment to double dementia research spending to continue research like this,’ Oakley added.
The findings have been published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT ROBS SUFFERERS OF THEIR MEMORIES
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CONCERN
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.
It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Alzheimer’s Society
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