An accumulation of cardiovascular risk factors over time increases chances of developing dementia
21 April 2022
Researchers from Sweden have found that the more quickly people develop cardiovascular risk factors, the more likely they are to go on to experience Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. This is compared to people who have one or two stable cardiovascular risk factors throughout their lives.
These findings are published today (Wednesday 20 April) in the journal Neurology.
What did the scientists do?
The study followed 1,244 people with an average age of 55 who started the study with good vascular health and memory skills.
Over the course of 25 years, participants were given memory tests, health checks and completed lifestyle questionnaires every five years.
People had their cardiovascular disease risk calculated using a measurement called the Framingham Risk Score which predicts a person’s 10-year risk of going on to have a cardiovascular event, such as a stroke or heart attack. It looks at factors such as age, sex, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, smoking status and whether someone has diabetes.
Researchers looked at how quickly participants’ Framingham Risk Score increased, and people were grouped according to whether they had a stable or accelerated cardiovascular risk.
What did the scientists find?
Out of the 1,244 people who took part in the 25-year study, 6% of people developed Alzheimer’s disease and 3% vascular dementia, with all these participants being over the age of 65.
Scientists found that cardiovascular disease risk remained stable in 22% of participants, increased slightly in 60%, and accelerated more rapidly in 18% of people.
Older adults with a stable cardiovascular disease risk were less likely to go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia compared to those with an accelerated cardiovascular risk. This equates to a three to six times greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s in people with accelerated risk compared to stable risk.
Our expert comment:
Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“There is clear evidence from this study and others that what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. This study suggests that it’s not a straightforward relationship, and the findings point to the rate at which people develop cardiovascular risk factors as a particularly important indicator of future dementia risk.
“Controlling single risk factors is still important, however this research shows that addressing a combination of modifiable factors such as blood pressure and smoking status could be the best approach for reducing the likelihood of developing dementia. This will help identify the people most at risk of developing dementia in the future based on their cardiovascular risk.
“Large, long-term studies like this are good for highlighting links, but we need research to explore the mechanisms behind these. This insight will enable researchers to design and deliver appropriate treatments and prevention strategies that will reduce the number of people who go on to develop dementia.
“It is important to properly manage long-term health conditions and people who have concerns about any aspect of their health should speak to their GP.
“We do know that it’s never too early or too late in life to take action on brain health and there are things we can do to reduce our risk of dementia. This includes not smoking, only drinking in moderation, staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, and keeping cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check can all help to keep our brains healthy as we age. Find information and advice on brain health at www.thinkbrainhealth.org.uk”