Risk of dementia skyrockets when patients have more than 1 cardiovascular condition

Presenting with more than one cardiometabolic condition is associated with a much higher risk of dementia, according to a new analysis of more than 200,000 patients.

The study, published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity, focused on patients 60 years old or older. All data came from the UK Biobank database. The authors tracked how many patients were diagnosed with diabetes, stroke or a myocardial infarction—and how many were diagnosed with more than one of those conditions.

While nearly 20,000 patients were diagnosed with one of the three conditions, more than 2,000 were diagnosed with two. A total of 122 patients, meanwhile, were diagnosed with all three. Patients with two of those conditions—any combination of the three—were much more likely to develop dementia. In fact, the authors added, a patient with all three conditions was three times more likely to develop dementia than a patient who simply had a high risk based on genetics.

“Many studies look at the risk of a single condition in relation to dementia, but health is more complex than that,” senior author David Llewellyn, MD, a professor at the University of Exeter in the U.K., said in a statement. "We know that many patients actually have a range of conditions. Our study tells us that for people who have a diagnosis of diabetes, stroke or a heart attack it is particularly important to look after their health and ensure they are on the right treatment, to prevent further problems as well as to reduce their dementia risk.”

The authors also examined MRI findings for more than 12,000 study participants, noting that patients with more than one of these conditions were more likely to present with extensive brain damage.

“The evidence is clear that what’s good for your heart is also good for your head,” Sara Imarisio, PhD, head of research for Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in the same statement. “A person’s risk of developing dementia is a complex mix of their age, their genes and aspects of their lifestyle. These findings reiterate the importance of treating the causes of poor heart health, not just for its own sake, but also the added benefit in terms of reducing the number of dementia cases.”

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Xin You Tai, MBBS, Michele Veldsman, PhD, Donald M Lyall, PhD, et al. Cardiometabolic multimorbidity, genetic risk, and dementia: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet Healthy Longevity, June 2022.

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