Dementia is one of the most common diseases in the 21st century that impairs the quality of life of millions of people worldwide.
Research shows that in 2017, nearly 50 million people were suffering from dementia, and this number is expected to rise to 82 million by 2030. 
It’s been challenging for scientists to find a 100% reliable treatment that works to cure or reverse dementia, so efforts have been directed elsewhere.
Scientists have found that identifying the risk factors that lead to dementia and other types of age-related cognitive decline, is an important strategy to prevent or delay the onset of the disease, at least for the time being.
Some of the risk factors include cardiovascular diseases, and this parameter has been researched in the past.
A new study that was recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, has examined the connection between cardiovascular risk and cognitive decline.
The study was nearly 21 years in the making, and their findings may prove to be illuminating and important.
Let’s see what they discovered.
The Study Method
In short, from 1997 to 2019 a total of 2.155 dementia-free participants at the average age of 79 were followed annually.
Out of this number, the results of 1.588 participants ended up in the study sample because 567 participants ended up developing dementia at some point during the study.
At the beginning of the study and at every follow-up, the participants went through clinical assessment, neurologic examination, and extensive cognitive testing for episodic memory, semantic memory, working memory, perceptual speed, and visuospatial ability in order for the researchers to catch any ongoing changes.
What Were the Results?
The results were very consistent with the hypothesis that cardiovascular risk can impact the onset and speed of age-related cognitive decline.
- The principal thing to know is that higher cardiovascular risk was linked to a faster decline in episodic memory, working memory, and processing speed.
- In line with this, changes in different cognitive processes indicate structural changes in the brain. Namely, episodic and working memory may point towards a deterioration of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Also, processing speed is connected to white matter lesions, which means that the cells of the white matter have become weakened.
- MRI data showed that higher cardiovascular risk was linked to smaller volumes of grey matter, hippocampus, and total brain, while the volume of white matter lesions was increased. Typically, decreased volumes of grey matter and hippocampus are found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.
- Finally, the results showed that some cardiovascular risk factors, like alcohol use and diabetes, contribute to an increased loss of volume of gray mass, hippocampal mass, and total brain mass.
This study is no doubt important. The results have proven how cardiovascular health and brain health are connected, and this fact should be taken into consideration for future research on cognitive decline.
The researchers of this study conclude that their findings “highlight the need to monitor and control cardiovascular burden to maintain cognitive health in late life.”
Resource: Song, R., Xu, H., Dintica, C., Pan, K., Qi, X., Buchman, A., Bennett, D. and Xu, W., 2020. Associations Between Cardiovascular Risk, Structural Brain Changes, and Cognitive Decline. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 75(20), pp.2525-2534. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2020.03.053