Latest study found that increasing the levels of cardiovascular health and education can help delay and prevent dementia. The study followed over 5,000 people for 40 years since the mid-1970s. Findings showed a significant 20 percent drop in dementia risks.

In the latter part of 1970s, most dementia cases set in at the age of 80. In the past few years, the average age is now 85. Interestingly, only the study participants with a high school diploma, at the very least, experienced the risk decline. The researchers also found that overall heart health improvement played a role in the reduction.

The participants all lived in Framingham, Massachusetts and were part of the federally funded Framingham Heart Study. Apart from education, the patients' dementia risks were influenced by the overall heart health. Irregular heartbeat, strokes and heart disease affect the brain function.

When the study began, heart stroke patients were six times more likely to develop the brain disorder. When the study ended, the risk were only twice more likely to be afflicted.

Regular monitoring of heart health lowers dementia risks as doctors can better detect and treat smaller strokes. Follow-up care is also very important as this ensures the cholesterol and blood pressure levels are controlled, explained study author Dr. Sudha Seshadri, a neurology professor at the Alzheimer's Disease Center at Boston University.

"We don't know completely what's bringing down the rates. The good news is, we are doing something right," said Seshadri who stressed the need for further study to understand and keep the trend going.

Keith Fargo from the Alzheimer's Association said the findings add to the evidence that managing heart health and improving education can benefit people in the long run when it comes to dementia risks. Fargo is the association's director of outreach and scientific programs.

"We've been preaching for years that what's good for the heart is good for the brain," said Mayo Clinic's Ronald Petersen, Mayo Clinic Study of Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Research Center director.

The research was published in the journal on New England Journal of Medicine on Feb. 11.

Photo: Louri Goussev | Flickr

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