Researchers from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and the University College London in UK have linked good cardiovascular health at age 50 with a lower risk of dementia later on in life.
The new study involved data gathered from almost 8,000 British men and women selected when they were at age 50 and free of cardiovascular disease and dementia. By ranking the participants’ results against the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” (LS7) scale, a score of cardiovascular health and their risk of dementia for the next 25 years was generated for each participant.
The LS7 measures four behavioural metrics (smoking, diet, physical activity, body mass index) and three biological metrics (fasting glucose, blood cholesterol, blood pressure), to give a score which indicates poor cardiovascular health (a score of 0 to 6), an intermediate level of health (7 to 11), or optimal cardiovascular health (12 to 14). The participants were then tracked into their later life for diagnoses of dementia using records from hospital, mental health services, and death registers.
The findings were published by The British Medical Journal on Thursday and it showed that, after taking into account potentially influencing factors, those that had higher LS7 score at age 50 were associated with a lower risk of dementia later in life. A higher LS7 score at age 50 was also associated with higher whole brain and grey matter volumes in MRI scans 20 years later.
Significantly, the team also found that even small improvements in cardiovascular risk factors at age 50 may reduce future dementia risk. They were cautious to make note that, as an observational study, these findings cannot be taken to show cause and effect. However, they believe the results suggest that improving cardiovascular health in middle age can promote cognitive health later in life.
As dementia can start to develop 15 to 20 years before any symptoms appear, identifying factors which can be improved early in life to prevent its onset is important. “Our findings suggest that the LS7, which comprises the cardiovascular health score, at age 50 may shape the risk of dementia in a synergistic manner,” the authors said. “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,” they concluded.