To prevent dementia as a senior, taking good care of one’s heart during middle age can serve as a strong foundation, according to new research.
What Did the Study Find?
A lower risk of dementia later in life is linked to good cardiovascular health at age 50, a large study of British adults published in The BMJ found. Led by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and University College London, the research focused on the link between dementia and the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” cardiovascular health score, which is designed for “primordial” prevention. It’s the sum of three biological metrics — fasting glucose, blood pressure and blood cholesterol — and four behavioral metrics — diet, smoking, physical activity and body mass index. The scores can range from poor (0-6), intermediate (7-11), and optimal (12-14.)
Of the 7,899 participants in the study, some 347 developed dementia during the 25 year period after their Life’s Simple 7 score was recorded. The group with poor scores had a dementia incidence rate of 3.2 per 1000 person years; those with an intermediate score had an incidence of 1.8 per 1000 person years, and those with an optimal score had an incidence of 1.3 per 1000 person years.
“Our findings suggest that the Life’s Simple 7 … may shape the risk of dementia in a synergistic manner,” the authors wrote. “Cardiovascular risk factors are modifiable, making them strategically important prevention targets. This study supports public health policies to improve cardiovascular health as early as age 50 to promote cognitive health.”
How Can Healthcare Providers Help Their Patients Prevent Dementia?
To start, healthcare providers can promote good cardiovascular and metabolic health by helping patients manage their weight and related medications. Patients should also “know their numbers,” says Satjit Bhusri, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“It’s important to be screened for blood pressure, sugar levels, and cholesterol,” he tells Florence Health. “These are all biological data that everyone should know about their body. All of these can be treated. Early intervention is key.”
Getting back to the basics of heart health is key, Dr. Bhusri adds.
“We must advocate for a no-added-salt, no-added-sugar diet,” he explains. “We must not be sedentary. People need to get up and move. Biology hasn’t changed. Rather, it’s the society we live in with the sitting, smoking, high-salt and sugary foods that has led to an increase in the incidence of heart disease.”
For patients having trouble losing weight, Dr. Bhusri recommends advising them to be proactive. “Help them to set goals and seek help from a friend or support group,” he says. “Lifestyle modification is key. It’s easy to take a pill but very hard to change a habit.”
If a patient asks how long he or she must exercise to make it “count,” tell them the heart is like a car engine, Dr. Bhusri quips: “It needs to run in order to keep working. I tell my patients to push themselves a little.”