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Your 'Brain Care Score' Might be Able to Predict Your Risk of Dementia, Stroke

ReachMD Healthcare Image
12/27/2023
health.com

A new test may indicate how likely you are to develop dementia or have a stroke, according to a new study.

The Brain Care Score (BCS)—a new tool to measure brain health—refers to how a person fares on 12 health-related factors concerning physical, lifestyle, and social-emotional parameters.

A study published early this month in Frontiers in Neurology found that people with a higher BCS have a lower risk of developing dementia or having a stroke later in life.

The BCS was developed in partnership with patients, families, and practitioners, Jonathan Rosand, MD, MSc, a study author and principal investigator for the Center for Genomic Medicine at Mass General Research Institute, told Health.

“We started with the question we received most often from patients and their families, ‘What can I do to take good care of my brain so that I don’t come down with a stroke or memory loss like my mother or father?’” said Rosand, who is also a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

He explained that the BCS takes science and converts it to information that can be used to assess someone’s risk of stroke or dementia in the future.

Each five-point improvement in the BCS was associated with a 59% lower risk of developing dementia and a 48% lower risk of experiencing a stroke among adults younger than 50 years old when they enrolled in the study.

“The components of the BCS include recommendations found in the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential Eight for cardiovascular health, as well many modifiable risk factors for common cancers,” Rosand said. “What’s good for the brain is good for the heart and the rest of the body.”

Getty Images / PIKSEL

Because dementia and stroke affect people of all backgrounds and all genders around the world, Rosand says everyone can benefit from using the BCS.

Plus, improving on the element mentioned in the test will also provide overall health benefits.

The physical aspects of the BCS include blood pressure, cholesterol, hemoglobin A1c,and body mass index. Lifestyle factors include nutrition, alcohol consumption, aerobic activities, sleep, and smoking cessation. The social-emotional aspects involve having relationships, managing stress, and finding meaning in life.

Understanding and addressing these factors early on could make a huge difference in future well-being.

“Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be 15 to 20 years in the making before symptoms show, so we should be addressing lifestyle change in our 40s and 50s,” Amanda Price, a health coach and personal trainer, told Health.

Stroke tends to strike at a younger age in men than in women, and women become more vulnerable post-menopause,” said Price, who owns The Age Well Coach and helps people in midlife reduce their dementia risk. “Vascular dementia seems to come on more quickly than Alzheimer’s, so our lifestyle in midlife is key.”

Just because you take the BCS doesn’t mean your score is locked in forever. Each health factor the test assesses can be changed.

“For example, if you lower your blood pressure, you can add three points. If you quit smoking, you can also add three points,” said Rosand. “The closer you get to the highest possible score of 21, the better care you’re taking of your brain.”

To increase your BCS and lower the chance of dementia and stroke, try doing things like eating healthy, exercising, and maintaining meaningful relationships and hobbies, Logan DuBose, MD, a geriatrics specialist and co-founder of Olera, a National Institute on Aging-funded group for dementia care, told Health.

"The study doesn't give specific tips, but it suggests that lifestyle habits like these help decrease the odds of dementia or stroke," he said.

Besides nutritious eating, regular exercise, and meaningful socializing, DuBose explained that there are other ways to lower your risk of dementia and stroke, too.

“Individuals benefit further from sleeping seven to eight hours each night, not smoking or drinking too much, and regularly following up with primary medical care,” he said. “Taking care of yourself in these ways can help keep your brain and body healthy.”

Price added that another important factor in preventing dementia is insulin resistance—which is not one of the key components of the BCS. Having hormones out of balance can be a risk factor for cognitive decline, she said.

Likewise, she encourages people to engage in strength training, be aware of their exposure to toxins, and make sure they are getting adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish), B vitamins, and vitamin D.

Price also encourages people in midlife to make sure they are stimulating their brains, too.

“The worst thing our brains can do is retire,” she said.

According to Rosand, the BCS is a tangible way for people to take charge of their brain health.

While this is true for everyone, people who are in midlife may experience the biggest benefit of the BCS.

“For prevention of stroke or dementia, it appears screening with BCS may be beneficial for people 40 to 50 years old,” said DuBose.

Researchers found that those in their 50s who used the BCS during the study to raise their score had a 32% lower risk of dementia and a 52% lower chance of stroke. Meanwhile, participants older than 59 had an 8% lower risk of dementia and a 33% lower risk of stroke.

For this reason, midlife is the key window of opportunity to make sure you are doing what you can to mitigate your risk—especially if you had a family member who suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“It is never too soon or too late to gain an understanding of your current health and dementia risk, though,” said Price. “However, the most benefit would be had for those 40 [and older].”

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Schedule29 May 2024