July 17, 2009

Heart Disease Linked to Alzheimer’s

Though discoveries about Alzheimer's disease are often in the news, a new study reveals that American adults are unaware of the relationship between Alzheimer's disease risk and heart health, and that physical activity can protect against dementia.

"There's a strong and credible association between heart health and brain health. If people learn about and do some simple lifestyle modifications, such as being more physically active and eating a brain healthy diet," Maria Carrillo, PhD, Director of Medical & Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer's Association, is quoted as saying, "it could have an enormous impact on our nation's public health and the cost of healthcare."

Colleen E. Jackson, M.S., a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Connecticut, and colleagues conducted an anonymous online survey of 690 adults to measure "dementia literacy" -- knowledge and beliefs regarding the recognition, management, and prevention of Alzheimer's.

The age range of the survey population was 30 to 85 years. Seventy-six percent of respondents were female. All participants were from the United States or other English-speaking countries. The sample was relatively wealthy and well-educated.

The researchers found 64 percent of study participants incorrectly indicated no association between Alzheimer's and obesity or high blood pressure. Sixty-six percent did not know that high stress is a risk factor for dementia, and 34 percent did not know that physical exercise is a protective factor. On the positive side, nearly all study participants correctly indicated that Alzheimer's is not normal aging, and is not completely based on genetics.

"Our data suggest that American adults have limited knowledge and a poor understanding of factors that have been demonstrated to increase risk for Alzheimer's, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and other heart health risk factors," Jackson is quoted as saying. "They also didn't know much about protective factors against Alzheimer's, such as physical exercise . . . .We need more education programs and opportunities, across all demographic groups, focusing on behaviors that modify your risk for developing Alzheimer's disease."

SOURCE:  Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (ICAD 2009), July 13, 2009