Many middle-aged people are at high risk for heart attack and stroke. Risk factors include obesity, diabetes, nicotine use, high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, and inactivity. Researchers are now looking at these risk factors and their relationship to changes in the brain, cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly impairs memory and thinking skills and ultimately makes basic daily tasks impossible. It happens slowly and can take up to a decade before symptoms appear.
The direct association between the risk factors of heart disease and Alzheimer’s is unclear. Scientists theorized that it could be due to a decrease in blood flow to the brain caused by these risk factors. They’ve also suggested that it could be linked to a buildup of amyloid protein fragments.
Amyloid protein buildup is a primary characteristic of many brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s. It is clear, however, that there’s an association between the number of risk factors an individual has and amyloid levels in the brain. Having one risk factor does not necessarily put you at risk – it’s the combination of a number of them that’s the issue. The interesting piece of this puzzle is that vascular risk factors are affecting the brain.
In a recent study, scientists reviewed medical data from 346 adults over the past three decades. At the start of the study, none of the participants, who were 52 years old on average, had dementia. More than two decades later, when participants were around 76 years old, they had brain scans to determine if there was any evidence of Alzheimer’s.
Brain scans found that 31 percent of people with no vascular risk factors at the start of the study had elevated amyloid levels later in life than 61 percent of those who had at least two vascular risk factors in their 50s. These results, in which twice as many individuals had the primary feature of Alzheimer’s disease, show us that taking control of risk factors earlier in one’s life is imperative in reducing the incidence of this debilitating brain disease later in life.
By reducing risk factors, like elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inactivity, you not only lower your risk of heart disease, but you can also protect your brain.