Diabetes, heart disease increase dementia risk: Study

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Dementia affects people as they get older

People with type 2 diabetes, heart disease or stroke have a double chance of developing dementia, a study shows.

Type 2 diabetes, heart disease (ischemic heart disease, heart failure or atrial fibrillation) and stroke, so-called cardiometabolic diseases, are some of the major risk factors for dementia.

The presence of more than one cardiometabolic disease accelerated the rate of cognitive decline and doubled the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, accelerating their development by two years. The magnitude of the risk increased with a greater number of diseases, the study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association revealed.

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Prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular disease could therefore be a strategy to reduce dementia risk, suggest researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

“In our study, the combinations of diabetes/heart disease and diabetes/heart disease/stroke were the most detrimental to cognitive function,” said Abigail Dove, a doctoral student at the Institute’s Aging Research Center.

However, individuals who had only one cardiometabolic disease showed no significantly higher risk of dementia.

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“This is good news. The study shows that risk only increases if someone has at least two of the diseases, so it’s possible that dementia could be prevented by preventing the development of a second disease,” he added.

Dementia develops slowly over decades. It first manifests as a gradual cognitive decline that is only visible in cognitive tests. It then degenerates into cognitive impairment where the individual notices their failing memory but can still take care of themselves, and eventually to full-blown dementia.

The researchers collected data on a total of 2,500 healthy, dementia-free individuals over the age of 60 who lived at Kungsholmen in Stockholm. The participants were then followed for 12 years with medical exams and cognitive tests to monitor changes in cognitive abilities and the development of dementia.

The correlation between cardiometabolic disease and dementia risk was stronger in the participants who were younger than 78 years of age.

“We should therefore focus on prevention of cardiometabolic disease as early as middle age, as the risk of cognitive failure and dementia appears to be greater in those who develop cardiometabolic disease earlier in life,” Dove said.

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