Good heart health in middle age linked to lower dementia risk – study

(Julien Behal/PA)

Middle-aged adults with healthy hearts have a lower risk of developing dementia later in life, a study suggests.

Following a series of cardiovascular recommendations could be a potential tool to prevent dementia, research led by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and University College London found.

The researchers looked at how well people scored on the American Heart Association’s Life Simple 7 cardiovascular health measure, based on a combination of behavioural and biological factors.

They analysed cardiovascular data collected from 7,899 British men and women at the age of 50 in a study on ageing called the Whitehall II Study, which recruited London-based civil servants in the 1980s.

Some 347 cases of dementia were reported when the cohort was followed up an average of 25 years later.

Adherence to the cardiovascular recommendations at 50 was associated with a lower risk of going on to develop dementia.

Those who had a poor cardiovascular score had an incidence rate of 3.2 per 1,000 person years, the study published in the BMJ found.

This compares with 1.8 per 1,000 in people with an intermediate score and 1.3 per 1,000 in people who scored highly.

The researchers said a higher cardiovascular health score at 50 was also associated with higher brain and grey matter volumes in scans 20 years later.

A linked editorial published in the BMJ said: “The implications from this study and many others are that the healthier the vascular system is in midlife, the lower the risk of subsequent dementia.

“This provides further support for the UK Government’s recent policy focus on vascular health in midlife.

“However, other evidence makes clear that vascular health at 50 is determined by factors earlier in the life course, including inequality and social and economic determinants.

“Although the Whitehall Study cannot reflect the UK’s population, estimates obtained from this cohort reinforce the need for action to shift population risk profiles for cognitive decline and dementia across the life course.”