Step 1 - Look after your heart
What’s good for your heart is good for your brain.
Many people are unaware of the connection between heart health and brain health which is why we like to say, 'what’s good for your heart is good for your brain'. The risk of developing dementia appears to increase as a result of conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels, particularly when these occur at mid-life.
Research indicates that having diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, and not treating them effectively, can damage the blood vessels in the brain, affecting brain function and thinking skills. Obesity is associated with increased risk for dementia, and other conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and vascular disease.
Untreated high blood pressure, specifically in mid-life has been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Promisingly, treatment of mid-life high blood pressure has been found to reduce dementia risk. High blood pressure in old age is not seen to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease but is undesirable at any age.
Treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity is necessary for good heart health and is likely also to protect brain health. They are all conditions that are easily identified and treatable.
It’s important to have regular health checks and follow the advice of your health professional.
Smoking increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and other diseases. Studies have shown that current smokers have a greater chance of developing dementia than people who don’t smoke. There is no safe level of smoking.
If you do smoke, seek medical advice on ways to help you quit, especially as it appears the increased risk reduces once you do. The National Heart Foundation of Australia says there is clear evidence of a rapid decrease of cardiovascular risk following cessation of smoking and that quitting smoking can rapidly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke (The National Heart Foundation, Policy Paper: Tobacco and cardiovascular disease, 2007).