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Seven Simple Cardiovascular Health Measures Linked to Reduced Dementia Risk in Women

Women with better indicators of cardiovascular health at midlife saw reduced risk of later dementia, according to results of a study that was released early, ahead of its scheduled presentation at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Epidemiologist Pamela M. Rist, ScD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, both in Boston, and colleagues, used data from 13,720 women whose mean age was 54 when they enrolled in the Harvard-based Women’s Health Study between 1992 and 1995. Subjects in that study were followed up in 2004.

Putting ‘Life’s Simple 7’ to the test

Dr. Rist and colleagues used the Harvard data to discern how well closely women conformed, during the initial study period and at 10-year follow up, to what the American Heart Association describes as “Life’s Simple 7,” a list of behavioral and biometric measures that indicate and predict cardiovascular health. The measures include four modifiable behaviors – not smoking, healthy weight, a healthy diet, and being physically active – along with three biometric measures of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar (AHA has since added a sleep component).

Researchers assigned women one point for each desirable habit or measure on the list, with subjects’ average Simple 7 score at baseline 4.3, and 4.2 at 10 years’ follow-up.

The investigators then looked at Medicare data for the study subjects from 2011 to 2018 – approximately 20 years after their enrollment in the Women’s Health Study – seeking dementia diagnoses. Some 13% of the study cohort (n = 1,771) had gone on to develop dementia.

Each point on the Simple 7 score at baseline corresponded with a 6% reduction in later dementia risk, Dr. Rist and her colleagues found after adjusting for variables including age and education (odds ratio per one unit change in score, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.90-0.98). This effect was similar for Simple 7 scores measured at 10 years of follow-up (OR, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.91-1.00).

“It can be empowering for people to know that by taking steps such as exercising for a half an hour a day or keeping their blood pressure under control, they can reduce their risk of dementia,” Dr. Rist said in a statement on the findings.

‘A simple take-home message’

Reached for comment, Andrew E. Budson, MD, chief of cognitive-behavioral neurology at the VA Boston Healthcare System, praised Dr. Rist and colleagues’ study as one that “builds on existing knowledge to provide a simple take-home message that empowers women to take control of their dementia risk.”

Each of the seven known risk factors – being active, eating better, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, and having low blood sugar – “was associated with a 6% reduced risk of dementia,” Dr. Budson continued. “So, women who work to address all seven risk factors can reduce their risk of developing dementia by 42%: a huge amount. Moreover, although this study only looked at women, I am confident that if men follow this same advice they will also be able to reduce their risk of dementia, although we don’t know if the size of the effect will be the same.”

Dr. Rist and colleagues’ study was supported by the National Institutes of Health. None of the study authors reported conflicts of interest. Dr. Budson has reported receiving past compensation as a speaker for Eli Lilly.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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