Good heart health aged 50 linked to lower dementia risk

07 July 2019

BMJ: Association of ideal cardiovascular health at age 50 with incidence of dementia: 25 year follow-up of Whitehall II cohort study

Research led by a team in Paris and London has found that UK civil servants with better heart health aged 50 have a lower risk of dementia. The study is published today (Wednesday 7 August) in the medical journal the BMJ.

The researchers used information from the Whitehall II study, a long-term health study that recruited people working as civil servants in the 1980s.

The scientists looked at seven measures of heart health in the civil servants at the age of 50. The seven measures included smoking status, diet, levels of physical activity, body mass index, information on blood pressure as well as glucose and cholesterol levels.

These measures make up American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” and are the risk factors the American Heart Association suggest people can improve through lifestyle changes to help achieve ideal cardiovascular health. The researchers used the score to rate people as having poor, intermediate and optimal heart health.

The team then followed the study participants up around 25 years later and looked at their medical records to see if they received a dementia diagnosis. They found that 347 cases of dementia were recorded over that time.

The study found that the number of new dementia cases was higher in those who were classed as having poor heart health aged 50 and lower in those who had intermediate and optimal heart health at the same age.

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Diseases that cause dementia can start in the brain decades before symptoms show and research suggests that midlife is a key window of opportunity for protecting brain health. While this group of civil servants may not be representative of the whole country, the findings add to strong evidence that good heart health benefits the brain. It’s promising to see this study show that even small changes to improve heart health may have a positive effect on dementia risk.

“Understanding the risk factors for dementia and when they’re most important will help shape prevention strategies that could have a huge impact on dementia rates in this country. The government must support public health campaigns to promote brain health and reduce dementia risk, to help stop the condition stealing so many more of our loved ones in the future.

“Just a third of people think it’s possible to reduce their dementia risk and while we can’t change our genes, this research suggests a healthy lifestyle can help stack the odds in our favour. Currently the best evidence suggests that staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking only within the recommended limits and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check all help support a healthy brain as we age.”