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Reducing dementia and stroke

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September 23rd, 2014

In last month’s column, I wrote about the benefits of exercise specifically with regard to better brain health and the prevention of cognitive impairment. Since that time, some very encouraging news has come out about the incidence of not only dementia but also heart attack and stroke. 

Researchers have found that the incidence of dementia-related illnesses has in fact been declining—both in the U.S. and other developed countries, including England, Germany, and Sweden. The numbers are impressive: Among seniors 60 and over, new cases of Alzheimer’s disease have fallen 44% since the early 1980s.

Heart attack and stroke are also on the decline. Yale University researchers reported that heart attack rates have decreased by 20% among the Medicare population over the past ten years.  Stroke incidence is also down by 41 percent among seniors, as reported by Dr. Feng of the University of California. 

This is wonderful news and not just a coincidence. Much of any organ’s health is a function of the health of the vessels that provide its blood supply. Healthy blood vessels mean better delivery of energy and oxygen, which for the brain results in better function and prevention of stroke and memory impairment. 

Personal responsibility pays off

Thus the decline in dementia, stroke, and heart attack is in part a direct result of people achieving better cardiovascular health by taking better care of themselves. Rates of smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol have decreased due to lifestyle changes such as healthier diets and more physical activity coupled with advances in medications and treatment. 

While cardiovascular health is fundamental to brain health, one other important factor is worthy of mention. Researchers have found that Alzheimer’s disease occurs less often in people with at least a high school diploma. Higher levels of education seem to provide the brain with some reserve and the capacity to compensate for dementia-related changes. Even if you didn’t go to high school or college, engaging in mentally stimulating activities throughout life may very well have the same positive effect. 

Currently, the Alzheimer’s Association predicts dementia prevalence to triple by 2050. Let’s all hope these numbers get scaled down as we—as individuals and a society—make positive lifestyle choices and medical science continues to bring new and better treatments. 

Working hard to maintain your good health sets an excellent example for generations to come, so keep up the good work.

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