Heart tests predict dementia risk

If you're looking to protect your brain, start with the heart.

The health of one depends on the other -- and the two are so closely related that the same risk factors for heart disease are also risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

And in some ways, those risk factors for heart disease might actually be better at predicting your long-term dementia risk than the more commonly used measurements of that risk.

In one new study, 7,830 men and women with an average age of 55 at the start were assigned "scores" based on their risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and dementia.

Their heart risk scores were based on common risk factors for heart disease such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking habits, age, and diabetes. The stroke score was based on similar numbers along with the patients' history of heart disease and heartbeat problems.

Similarly, their dementia scores were based on commonly accepted dementia risk factors such as age, education levels, blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol levels, and exercise as well as a genetic test.

Over the next decade, the volunteers were given cognitive tests three times -- and the dementia scores they had been given at the start were actually pretty good at predicting who was most likely to suffer declines on those tests over the years.

But the heart risk scores were even better.

People with the highest heart risk scores were most likely to suffer cognitive decline than even people with the highest dementia risk scores, according to the study in Neurology. In addition, both heart and stroke risk scores were good indicators of decline in just about every cognitive measure tested except for actual memory.

Since just about all the risk factors for heart disease are within your control (except, of course, for age), take action today to protect it as best you can. You'll slash your risk of heart disease and stroke. And you can help protect your brain at the same time.