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Dementia: Researchers identify new risk factor increasing the risk of brain decline by 55%

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Dementia remains one of the biggest medical challenges of the 21st century. But in the absence of disease-halting treatments, broadening our understanding of the disease remains our best hope for tackling it. In recent years, researchers have uncovered a string of conditions potentially linked to neurodegenerative illness. Now, new findings suggest that the rate at which a heart beats could determine one’s risk of the condition.

Cases of dementia are rising at exponential rates, highlighting the pressing need for efficient preventive measures against the disease.

Growing evidence suggests that keeping the heart healthy is imperative for conserving neurological wellbeing too.

The findings of a new study, conducted in Stockholm, support this statement by suggesting that having an elevated heartbeat in old age could boost the risk of dementia.

For their study, researchers analysed the resting heart rate of 2,147 individuals aged over 60 living in Stockholm.

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They set out to determine whether resting heartbeat could be liked to dementia and cognitive decline, independently of other risk factors.

After following participants over a period of 12 years, researchers found that those with a resting heart rate of 80 beats per minute or higher on average had 55 percent higher risk of dementia than those with a heart rate of 60-69 beats per minute.

After accounting for all influential risk factors the association still remained significant.

The study’s leading author Yume Imahori, a researcher at the Department of Neurobiology Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institute, said: “We believe it would be valuable to explore if resting heart rate could identify patterns with higher dementia risk.

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“If we follow such patients’ cognitive function carefully and intervene early, the onset of dementia might be delayed, which can have a substantial impact on their quality of life.”

The researchers did however caution that the results could be influenced by undetected cardiovascular events.

They also noted that some participants with cardiovascular problems died during the follow-up period, and therefore didn’t have time to develop dementia.

Although no causal relationship could be established, the researchers offered hypotheses explaining the potential association.

They highlighted the effect of underlying cardiovascular diseases and risk factors, stiffened arteries and imbalance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve activities.

Previous theories put forward have suggested that an elevated pulse could cause blood-brain barrier dysfunction, which could, in turn, contribute to the development of dementia.

It does so by deregulating brain cells and increasing cellular erudition of oxidative and inflammatory molecules, according to Frontiers in Neuroscience.

The findings add to a string of evidence highlighting a strong link between irregular heart rhythm and dementia.

In one study recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers suggested atrial fibrillation was associated with cognitive impairment and dementia.

During the study, the team found the risk of dementia to be 40 percent greater among individuals with atrial fibrillation.

The findings also highlighted that participants taking blood thinners to treat atrial fibrillation had a 60 percent decreased risk of dementia.

Researchers hope the findings of the latest study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of Alzheimer’s Association, will enable early detection and medical intervention.

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