The global prevalence of brain diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-causing disorders, has steadily risen in the past three decades. While the precise cause for this rise is unclear, many of the risk factors contributing to the increase in brain diseases are identical to those risk factors already associated with cardiovascular diseases, according to the American Heart Association’s “Heart and Stroke Statistics – 2022 Update.”
The number of people diagnosed with a brain disease has increased 144% since 1990, totaling more than 54 million patients worldwide in 2020. Additionally, the death rate for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-causing diseases has increased 44% since 2010, more than doubling the increase in deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases.
Given the rising number of patients diagnosed with a brain disease throughout the world, coming to understand and identify the specific risk factors contributing to this growth is paramount. This increase in dementia-causing disorders has caused an enormous strain on patients, families, and the healthcare system. In fact, between 1996 and 2016, the healthcare costs for dementia more than doubled, from $38.6 million to $79.2 million.
Finding a way to reduce the risk of developing a brain disease is crucial to offsetting and slowing the recent rise. According to experts, the best way to reduce the risk of developing a brain disease is to follow the same healthy lifestyle choices associated with cardiovascular health.
“We are learning more about how some types of dementia are related to aging, and how some types are due to poor vascular health. Many studies show that the same healthy lifestyle behaviors that can help improve a person’s heart health can also preserve or even improve their brain health,” says former AHA president, Mitchell S.V. Elkind, in a statement.
Most cardiovascular disease risk factors are widely known, including smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity. Since those same risk factors appear just as likely to lead to a brain disease, experts believe a continued emphasis on healthy cardiovascular lifestyle choices can help mitigate the recent rise in brain disease diagnoses.
Smoking can increase the chance of developing dementia by 40%. Furthermore, living with obesity more than triples the risk of dementia. Additionally, people already living with cardiovascular disease are far more likely to develop a dementia-causing disorder, according to research.
The risk for developing a dementia-causing disorder is particularly high after having a stroke. Individuals with heart failure are twice as likely to develop dementia. A 40% increased risk was observed in individuals with coronary heart disease. And the risk was more than doubled in individuals with high blood pressure at midlife.
Given the clear connection between cardiovascular and brain health, preaching the tenets of healthy living are key to reducing the risk factors for developing both cardiovascular and brain diseases. By simply maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and managing blood pressure, among other lifestyle choices and habits, anyone can increase their chances of living a long, healthy life.
This was originally published in Circulation.
Article written by Adam Swierk