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Experts say it’s important to exercise and eat healthy to avoid cardiometabolic diseases. Kentaroo Tryman/Getty Images
  • Cardiometabolic conditions include heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Researchers say having more than one of these conditions at the same time can double the risk of developing dementia.
  • Experts say the new research reemphasizes the need for older adults to have a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

A new study sheds some light on the potential for preventing dementia.

Researchers in Sweden say that having more than one cardiometabolic disease at the same time doubles your risk for developing dementia.

Cardiometabolic conditions include heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

The study started with 2,577 people who showed no signs of dementia. The participants were over the age of 60, lived in central Stockholm, and were part of the Swedish National Study on Aging and Care.

The researchers followed the study participants for 12 years with both medical exams and cognitive tests.

The scientists say they discovered that having more than one cardiometabolic diagnosis accelerated the speed of cognitive decline and doubled the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.

Compared to people with no cardiometabolic disease, having more than one cardiometabolic disease also expedited the development of cognitive impairment and dementia by about two years. The risk was even greater with more cardiometabolic diseases.

The researchers noted that the study participants who had just one cardiometabolic disease did not show a significantly higher risk for dementia.

The researchers said they believe this is the first study to look at the impact of multiple cardiometabolic diseases on dementia risk.

Experts told Healthline the research adds to the existing body of knowledge.

“We know a lot about heart disease, we know a good bit about diabetes. We probably know less about dementia,” said Dr. Jorge Plutzky, the director of preventive cardiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as well as an associate professor at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts who has written extensively about cardiometabolic diseases.

“It was not surprising to me, I would have said these things are interrelated and associated. But it’s always nice to see additional data that tries to create some context, provide additional clues and some additional insight into how these things overlap” he told Healthline.

“There’s plenty of evidence that links cardiometabolic disease with cognitive decline, impairment and even dementia,” added Dr. Scott A, Kaiser, a geriatrician and the director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

But what was interesting in this study is looking at the presence of multiple conditions,” he told Healthline. “When you look at people over the age of 65, two out of three suffer from multiple chronic conditions. One-third, in particular, suffer from multiple cardiometabolic diseases, the type of chronic conditions they looked at in this study.”

Experts say the takeaway from the study is, as always, to try and prevent heart disease and diabetes.

In addition, if you already have one cardiometabolic disease, don’t develop a second.

“The common soil hypothesis is that diabetes and heart disease are like two weeds in a garden arising out of the same soil,” Plutzky explained. “They’re intertwined and if you have one of these conditions, you don’t want the second one. But you’re at risk of the second one because of some of those common soil elements. Controlling the risk factors that led to the first one, you have a good chance of controlling the second one.”

Kaiser says prevention is a matter of going back to the basics, or what he calls the “usual suspects”.

“They’re things that should come as no surprise in terms of lifestyle factors. Eat a healthy diet that’s full of vegetables and low in sugars and highly processed foods, and exercise regularly” Kaiser said. “It’s the closest thing we have to a miracle drug when it comes to preventing or managing these conditions.”

Plutzky says if you already have been diagnosed with a cardiometabolic disease, it’s important to manage it properly.

“That’s often going to be associated with some modest degree of weight loss. If you have heart disease, you absolutely want your blood pressure to be well controlled” he explained.

“If you do have diabetes, try to keep your glucose under control. Some of the new therapies have been shown to have cardiovascular benefits. They have not been studied in terms of dementia, but they ultimately will be,” he added.