Hardened arteries in seniors could be early sign of dementia

As the medical community comes to gain a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, it has begun to identify a growing number of risk factors that could play a role in the disease’s development. Everything from a sedentary lifestyle to lack of social engagement may play a role, and a new study suggests that hardening of the arteries may be tied to elevated levels of brain plaques, which are often associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, is further evidence that heart health and brain health are inextricably linked.

A significant relationship
To understand the relationship between arterial stiffness and cognitive health, researchers looked at the brain scans of more than 90 adults between the ages of 83 and 91 who did not show any signs of dementia at the beginning of the study. The team also measured their arterial stiffness. Interestingly, they found that study subjects who had higher levels of brain plaques had both elevated blood pressure levels and stiffer arteries, meaning the heart had to work harder to pump blood through the circulatory system.

“We feel like what we found is really strong,” lead researcher Tim Hughes told Healthline. “We’ve known for a while that vascular and brain health were linked, but our findings may lead to more precise measures of Alzheimer’s risk.”

An early indicator
In addition to strengthening the tie between heart health and brain function, the research is also important because it pinpoints a risk factor that could help doctors identify at-risk patients early enough so they can take a proactive approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease. For instance, given that high blood pressure may play a role, seniors can start making lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of developing dementia.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, many of the foods that are good for cardiovascular health are also good for the brain. Green vegetables such as kale, collards, chard, spinach and broccoli are particularly benefits for both the heart and mind. Whole grains are also important because of the benefits they offer when it comes to managing cholesterol levels. Fish, nuts and purple and blue fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries and grapes are also smart additions to seniors’ diets.