Experts say risk of dementia could be cut by improving one key health issue

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New research suggests that heart health could be a significant risk factor for future dementia rates. The study indicates that compared to factors such as smoking and lower education levels, the risk factors for dementia associated with heart health may have increased over time.

The findings suggest that more action aimed at improving cardiovascular health could help prevent future cases of dementia. It's estimated that 944,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, and data suggests that over half of the adult population knows someone who has been diagnosed with the disease.

This implies that enhancing your heart health now - through better diet and exercise - could significantly reduce your risk of dementia. In the recent study, researchers from UCL analysed 27 papers involving individuals with dementia worldwide, using data collected between 1947 and 2015.

They used this data to calculate the proportion of dementia cases attributable to various risk factors over time. Dementia typically develops due to a mix of genetic and environmental factors, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, education level, and smoking.

The team discovered that rates of obesity and diabetes have risen over time, as has their contribution to the risk of dementia. Dr Naaheed Mukadam from the UCL Division of Psychiatry said: "Cardiovascular risk factors may have contributed more to dementia risk over time, so these deserve more targeted action for future dementia prevention efforts."

Dr Mukadam further noted that increased levels of education in many higher-income countries have made it a less significant risk factor for dementia, while smoking has also declined in regions like Europe and the USA due to social attitudes and cost.

The expert emphasised that population-wide interventions could "significantly" impact the prevalence of risk factors, suggesting that governments should look into global education policies and smoking restrictions as potential strategies. According to the study's findings, high blood pressure remains the most substantial risk factor for dementia, although proactive management of this condition has improved.

The research, which appeared in The Lancet Public Health, received funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Three Schools' Dementia Research Programme. It's estimated that 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia.

By 2050, Alzheimer's Research UK predicts this number will triple to a staggering 152 million. Dr Isolde Radford, senior policy manager at the charity, said: "This new analysis says it loud and clear that managing high blood pressure and keeping our hearts healthy is playing an important role in reducing our risk of developing dementia."

She added: "With no treatments currently available in the UK that can stop or slow the diseases that cause dementia, there has never been a more pressing need for looking after our brain health to help reduce the future risk of developing dementia. Evidence tells us that what's good for our hearts is good for our brains, and this new research underlines the importance of this message."

Dr Radford went on to say: "So, things like eating a healthy balanced diet and staying physically active can all help people to reduce their risk of dementia. But just one in three people know they can reduce their risk of developing dementia and there are many factors such as income and ethnicity that affect our ability to do so."

"That's why it's vital the next UK government takes steps to help make healthy lifestyles as achievable as possible for everyone," she concluded.