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Health concerns typically grow as people age. From heart disease, arthritis, fall injuries, diabetes and dementia symptoms, these outward signs will begin to become apparent as people age.

Some health concerns aren’t always obvious or related, but a new study shows that there might very well be a connection between heart complications and dementia, which is a group of symptoms related to impairment of the brain.

According to Lancet Healthy Longevity, people who suffer from multiple heart ailments are more likely to develop dementia-related illness. Surprisingly, they even face a higher risk than people who are genetically inclined to developing the disease. These findings are part of a study of more than 200,000 people over the age of 60.

The question before the group of researchers was to determine the relationship, if any, between cardiometabolic and heart diseases and a higher risk for dementia. Stroke, diabetes and myocardial infarction (heart disease) are among the diseases of concern. The study concluded that people with more age-related illnesses, such as heart attack and diabetes, were more likely to also get dementia symptoms in their latter stages of life. In fact, the study shows that dementia risk is increased by a factor of three in patients with pre-existing cardiometabolic multimorbidity. Scientists found widespread brain structural changes and decreased total grey matter volume in patients with a variety of health issues.

Scientists are wrangling with this question: To what extent do age-related illness factor in when we talk about dementia risk?  While it’s clear that multimorbidity is predictive of mortality, there’s still a lot to learn about how it relates to the genetic risk of dementia.

We know, for instance, that in most dementia cases, there is no single genetic marker or mutation that is considered the key to causation. That’s what makes this study so ambitious. It is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between the mentioned illnesses and dementia.

Scientists spent over a decade on this invaluable study. They analyzed data from dementia-free individuals who experienced stroke, heart attack, diabetes and related illness. Through the course of the study, researchers learned that people with multiple ailments were more likely to also develop dementia when compared to individuals with a genetically predisposition for dementia.

People with a genetic risk of dementia showed brain deterioration in one area. Conversely, those with multimorbidity experienced greater brain deterioration.

It’s important to note that this study is strictly observational, for now. And it is not evidence that people who suffer from one or more of these diseases will develop dementia symptoms. There’s no causation. But it’s a step forward in the understanding of a complex diseases that inflicts millions of Americans. As scientists build upon their findings, it’s possible that we’ll learn about how intervention that focuses on cardiometabolic risks will in fact also become an effective way to prevent or decrease the risks of developing dementia.

The full summary of the study can be read here. While research continues to bring to light the causes of dementia symptoms, it is important we all become Dementia Aware. I encourage you to check out my book to learn more.

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