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Exploring the Connection Between Vascular Health and Dementia

Illustration of a brain with blood vessels, representing the connection between vascular health and dementia.

Dementia includes various neuro-degenerative conditions that affect one or more cognitive domains of the brain, significantly impairing cognitive function in the affected domains and limiting their fulfilment of normal daily living functions.

Vascular health, on the other hand, refers to the state and condition of the circulatory systems encompassing the heart, blood vessels, blood, and other supporting organs that supply blood around the body. It follows that the brain, the nerve center for body control and cognitive function, depends on the vascular system for blood supply to ensure steady availability of nutrients, oxygen, and waste removal.

Proper vascular health is a prerequisite for brain health and function, and poor blood supply would immediately imperil brain functionality. It is thus instructive that the cognitive impairment associated with dementia could have some linkage to vascular health.

circulatory systems

There has been some research to determine how vascular health impacts dementia, including onset and progression. Information from such research could play a valuable role in preventing dementia, reducing the risk of the condition, and possibly delaying and impending its progression to improve the quality of life for the population and dementia patients.

This article aims to explain the connection between vascular health and dementia and what can be done to reduce the chances of developing the condition.

Vascular health and dementia 

Several scientific studies have looked into the impact of vascular health on dementia onset and progression. One of the links between the incidence of dementia and vascular health emanates from shared risk factors. Studies have consistently highlighted that the majority of the risk factors that make people more likely to suffer from poor vascular health, including but not limited to excessive alcohol use, smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, have been linked with dementia.

Clinicians and researchers hold that unhealthy arteries may play a contributing role in dementia. Moreover, cardiovascular diseases routinely coexist with dementia and often exacerbate it.

cardiovascular

Another plausible link between vascular health and dementia emanates from the relationship between vascular dementia and the onset of dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most frequent form of dementia, accounting for up to 20% of dementia. This form of dementia arises from brain damage that strongly influences cerebrovascular and vascular health problems in the patient.

This type of dementia also arises from genetic diseases as well as endocarditis, an infection of the heart valve that results in poor blood flow control. It is thus evident in this situation that poor vascular health, such as in the case of endocarditis, would result in vascular dementia and other poor cognitive health outcomes.

Lastly, amyloid antipathy is a frequent cause of vascular dementia, involving the buildup of a protein compound known as amyloid in the blood vessels serving the brain, which narrows the space available for blood flow, limits nutrient and oxygen supply, and blocks the removal of toxins from the brain. Therefore, degraded vascular health would have increased risks for dementia, and this is true for vascular health in the brain and away from the brain, like the heart.

degraded vascular health would have increased risks for dementia

Other studies have focused on the risk levels of coronary heart disease for developing dementia later in life. In one such study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the authors sought to determine the effect that a diagnosis of coronary heart disease before the age of 45 would have on the risk of developing dementia later in life. Conducted in the United Kingdom using Biobank database details, the authors examined several millions of patient records.

The results showed that a diagnosis of coronary heart disease before the age of 45 significantly raised the risk of developing any of the various forms of dementia in later years. Specifically, participants had a 36% higher risk of developing dementia, a 78% greater risk for vascular dementia, and a 13% higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease after adjusting for multiple factors that included lifestyle factors.

coronary heart disease

These figures are beyond significant and show a strong connection between vascular health and dementia. In fact, further analysis showed that the risk of developing dementia increased proportionally with diagnosis in the younger years of the population, which implies that persons who suffer from coronary heart disease at their younger ages are almost certain to suffer from dementia in their later years.

A similar study looked at the association between ideal cardiovascular health at age 50 and the odds of developing dementia in later years of life. The study, also conducted in the United Kingdom, revealed a lower risk of dementia for people who had a higher cardiovascular health score. Researchers found this relationship replicated among those who did not contract dementia in the follow-up years, revealing the strong influence of cardiovascular health on dementia. Consequently, the study recommended adherence to healthy cardiovascular guidelines to limit the risk of developing dementia.

Other studies have concentrated on the link between small vessel disease and dementia. Researchers have unearthed some plausible links between the two, where the small vessel disease impedes the free flow of nutrients, oxygen, and waste from the brain, contributing to cognitive decline. Investigations have also discovered a significant correlation between hypertension-triggered blood vessel ruptures and an increased risk of dementia.

correlation between hypertension triggered blood vessel ruptures and increased risk of dementia

How to Improve Vascular Health to Minimize the Risk of Developing Dementia?

While dementia has complex causes, maintaining healthy blood vessels can significantly reduce your risk. Since brain changes associated with dementia can begin decades before symptoms appear, starting early and adopting healthy habits are crucial. Here’s how you can improve your vascular health and potentially minimize your risk:

1. Manage Blood Pressure: Uncontrolled high blood pressure damages blood vessels, hindering blood flow to the brain and raising dementia risk. Aim for a target blood pressure determined by your doctor, typically under 130/85 mmHg. Regularly monitor your pressure and work with your healthcare provider to control it effectively through medication, lifestyle changes, or both.

2. Address Diabetes: Diabetes affects blood sugar regulation, leading to complications that damage blood vessels. If you have diabetes, prioritize strict blood sugar control through diet, exercise, and medication. Regular monitoring and managing diabetes with your doctor is crucial for mitigating dementia risk.

3. Kick the Smoking Habit: Smoking harms blood vessels and significantly increases dementia risk. Apart from that it is also considered as one of the risk factors of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Quitting smoking at any age offers benefits, including reducing inflammation and improving blood flow, ultimately benefitting your brain health. Consider seeking support groups or therapy to quit successfully.

4. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Obesity increases inflammation and contributes to other risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes, all of which are detrimental to vascular health and brain function. People with dementia should aim for a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular physical activity. Consult your doctor or a registered dietitian for personalized guidance.

5. Embrace a Physically Active Lifestyle: Regular exercise has profound benefits for vascular health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking, swimming, cycling) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (running, jumping jacks) weekly. Additionally, incorporate strength training exercises at least twice a week to maintain muscle mass and enhance overall health.

6. Nourish Your Body with a Healthy Diet: Choose a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources. Limit saturated and trans fats, processed foods, added sugars, and excessive salt intake. The Mediterranean diet, focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, has shown promising results in promoting brain health and reducing dementia risk.

7. Regularly Monitor & Manage Cholesterol: High cholesterol levels contribute to plaque buildup in arteries, hindering blood flow. This may affect your vascular health. Regularly check your cholesterol levels and work with your doctor to manage them effectively through medication and lifestyle modifications, if needed.

Conclusion 

In sum, dementia is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that results in cognitive decline among the affected persons, especially those beyond 65 years. So far scientists have not figured out a single definitive cause of dementia but suspect that a complex interaction of genetic, environmental, and experiential factors plays a role.

Nevertheless, mounting evidence on the connection between cardiovascular health and dementia points to a strong link between the two. Maintaining an active lifestyle is one of the best solutions for the prevention of dementia. People could improve their risks of dementia by observing better cardiovascular health and eliminating factors that place them at risk of the disease. Adopting a holistic and long-term approach to health can be a valuable strategy.

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Picture of Cherie Voise

Cherie Voise

Cherie Voise, inspired by personal experiences and driven by her role as an advocate, founded Voise Foundation to improve the lives of those with dementia. As the foundation's key content creator and blog author, she draws on her deep understanding of the disease, advocating for respect, dignity, and creative therapy avenues such as VST Music© and other programs. Cherie's heartfelt writings, fueled by empathy, resonate with readers, offering insight and stirring action. Become a part of this journey and together with Cherie, let's make a meaningful impact in the world of dementia care.