A man with heartburn

A man with heartburn (Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Pexels)

DALLAS — Taking care of your heart early in life might be the key to a sharper brain later on. Individuals who develop heart disease before the age of 45 face a significantly higher risk of dementia later in life, a new study warns.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) occurs when the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed due to the buildup of cholesterol and other materials, known as plaque. This can lead to chest pain, heart attacks, and other heart-related problems.

Researchers analyzing data from over 430,000 British individuals found that those who experienced CHD before 45 had a 36-percent increased risk of developing dementia. The study also reveals that these individuals faced a 13-percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and a 78-percent greater risk of vascular dementia compared to those without coronary heart disease.

Coronary heart disease has previously been associated with dementia risk in older adults, however, this is believed to be the first large-scale study examining whether the age of coronary heart disease onset may impact the risk of developing dementia later in life,” says the study’s senior author, Dr. Fanfan Zheng, from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, in a media release. “In previous research, we found that adults experienced accelerated cognitive decline after new diagnoses of coronary heart disease.”

Confused older man
Confused senior man with dementia looking at a wall calendar (© highwaystarz – stock.adobe.com)

Using the UK Biobank, a database containing health records of around 500,000 adults, the researchers explored the relationship between the age of onset of coronary heart disease and the development of dementia. In all, researchers used data from 432,667 individuals, excluding those with pre-existing dementia or stroke, incomplete data, or dementia before CHD onset. The study found a direct correlation between younger onset ages of coronary heart disease and increased dementia risk.

“What surprised us most was the linear relationship between age of coronary heart disease onset and dementia. This shows the huge detrimental influence of premature coronary heart disease on brain health,” says Dr. Zheng. “As more people live longer and are diagnosed with coronary heart disease at a younger age, it’s likely there will be a large increase in the number of people living with dementia in years to come. Healthcare professionals should be aware of individuals diagnosed with coronary heart disease at a young age. The next step is to determine whether modifying cardiovascular risk early in life will promote better brain health later in life.”

The research is crucial as dementia is a leading cause of disability and dependency among older adults, with the number of people affected set to rise dramatically. Understanding and intervening in risk factors like early-onset CHD could help mitigate this growing public health issue.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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