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How to protect the brain: Study proves you can fight off dementia

KEEPING the heart healthy slashes the risk of dementia in older people by 60 percent, a major study has revealed.

And it can be achieved by following just seven easy steps – preventing both cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s disease, according to scientists. The programme recommends controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing blood sugar and getting physically active. Known as Life’s Simple 7, it also advises a healthy diet, losing excess weight and giving up smoking. Sticking to it has already been shown to make premature deaths 50 percent less likely.

The list was originally compiled by the American Heart Association to ward off heart disease, but then found to help prevent cancer.

Now a study of Whitehall civil servants has discovered it also slashes the risk of dementia.

Patients are scored on each element with two points awarded for ideal, one for intermediate and zero for poor. The maximum is 14 and the higher the better.

Lead author Dr Severine Sabia, an epidemiologist at University College London, said: “Our findings suggest that the Life’s Simple 7, which comprises the cardiovascular health score, at age 50 may shape the risk of dementia. This study supports public health policies to improve cardiovascular health as early as age 50 to promote cognitive health.”

Her team tracked 7,899 men and women, analysing the link between their Life’s Simple 7 score at 50 and their risk of dementia over an average follow-up period of 25 years.

The devastating neurological condition can start to develop two decades before any symptoms appear. With no cure in sight there is an increasing focus on prevention, and the heart health predictors have been put forward as a potential tool.

The score is the sum of four behavioural (smoking, diet, physical activity, body mass index) and three biological (fasting glucose, blood cholesterol, blood pressure) metrics.

Poor cardiovascular fitness is categorised as 0-6, intermediate 7-11 and optimal 12-14.

Among the participants, who were all healthy at the outset, 347 cases of dementia were identified up until 2017 from hospital, mental health service and death registers. Average age at diagnosis was 75.

Adherence to the Life’s Simple 7 recommendations in middle age was associated with a lower risk of dementia later in life.

This was even after taking into account socio-demographic factors, said Dr Sabia, whose findings are published in The BMJ.

Among those with poor cardiovascular scores the incidence rate was 3.2 per 1,000 person years compared to 1.3 for those with optimal ones – a drop of 59.4 percent.

Intermediate scorers had a dementia incidence of 1.8 per 1000 person years, 44 percent less than those with the worst heart health.

In the UK dementia affects around 850,000 people, a figure set to rise to two million by 2050.