Heart Disease Risks Are Linked With Dementia

Brain imaging may be useful in diagnosing vascular dementia, but its role is not yet clearly defined, according to a new scientific statement. (Image: Hayden Bird)

A group of experts has developed a roadmap to help physicians recognize that many of the same risk factors that cause heart disease also can lead to vascular dementia in the elderly.

The scientific statement from the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association suggests that controlling many of the risks associated with heart disease—high blood pressure, high blood glucose, high cholesterol levels, smoking, and excess weight—may reduce the risk of vascular cognitive decline and dementia. The statement was released online today in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

“What is good for the heart is good for the brain,” said Philip Gorelick, MD, MPH, co-chair of the group that wrote the document and director of the Center for Stroke Research at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, in a statement.

Blood vessels clogged with plaque can restrict blood flow not only to the heart, but also to the brain. The result is cerebrovascular disease, which may cause stroke or other types of brain injuries that can lead to cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer disease.

“Cerebrovascular disease and Alzheimer disease may work together to cause cognitive impairment, and the mixed disorder may be the most common type of dementia in older persons,” added Gorelick.

The statement, based on a comprehensive medical literature review, recommends maintaining healthy blood pressure to reduce the risk of vascular dementia, especially in younger adults. Other risk-reduction strategies include controlling high cholesterol and high blood glucose, giving up smoking, staying physically active, and eating a Mediterranean diet heavy in vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and fish.

The authors encourage physicians to screen older patients for cognitive impairment and to treat vascular risks according to regionally or nationally accepted guidelines.

Categories: Alzheimer Disease, Cerebrovascular Disease, Cognitive Disorders, Dementias, Stroke