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Elderly with elevated heart rates may be at greater risk of dementia © Getty Images

Elderly people with elevated heart rates may be at greater risk of dementia

Published: 03rd December, 2021 at 14:33

The discovery could help doctors to identify people with higher dementia risk for early intervention.

There are currently 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, according to figures compiled by Alzheimer’s Research UK. This figure is expected to rise to one million by 2025, and two million by 2050.

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It is currently the only disease in the UK’s top 10 causes of death without an effective treatment to prevent, cure or slow its progression, but there is growing evidence that maintaining cardiovascular health could help delay the onset of the disease and ease symptoms.

Now, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have found evidence that links elevated resting heart rates in old age to a higher risk of dementia.

Since resting heart rate is simple to measure and can be lowered through regular exercise or through the use of medication, the researchers say it may be a method of identifying and treating those with a higher risk of developing dementia before the disease progresses too far.

Read more about dementia:

The team monitored the resting heart rates of 2,147 participants living in Stockholm, Sweden aged 60 and over for up to 12 years. They found that those with resting heart rates of 80 beats per minute or higher on average had a 55 per cent higher risk of developing dementia than those with a heart rate of 60 to 69 beats per minute.

The connection remained even when the team adjusted for other potential known risk factors, such as cardiovascular disease. However, the researchers note that undetected cardiovascular events may have affected the results or that more participants with cardiovascular disease died during the study period and so didn’t have time to develop dementia.

“We believe it would be valuable to explore if resting heart rate could identify patients with high dementia risk,” said the study’s leading author Yume Imahori, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet.

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“If we follow such patients’ cognitive function carefully and intervene early, the onset of dementia might be delayed, which can have a substantial impact on their quality of life.”

What is dementia?

Some 850,000 people are estimated to be living with dementia in the UK, and that’s expected to rise to two million by 2050. Most of us probably know, or have known, someone with dementia. But we may not understand the difference between dementia and, say, Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia describes the symptoms that someone experiences as a result of a brain disease. Such symptoms can include memory loss, mood and behavioural changes, and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving and language.

More than 100 diseases can cause dementia, each with slightly different symptoms. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s.

Read more about dementia:

Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.

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