Need another boost of motivation to commit to losing weight, sleeping better, increasing your nutrition or exercise levels, or cutting back on alcohol? Then you’ll be pleased to know that any (and all) of these efforts can also improve brain health.
An international study led by researchers at the McCance Center for Brain Health at Massachusetts General Hospital has designed and validated Brain Care Score (BCS) cards to easily summarize what you are doing well and what you could do better . The prize is a healthier brain and, in particular, a reduced risk of dementia and stroke.
This user-friendly scorecard, designed to predict how current habits will affect future brain health, is apparently the first of its kind, said Dr. Andrew Bardson, lecturer in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
“Researchers developing such a scale and completing the first study to determine whether scoring lower on the scale increases the risk of dementia and stroke are a real service,” Bardson The doctor said he was not involved in the analysis. “On the one hand, no one has done anything like this before. However, on the other hand, it really puts the health factors that everyone has known about for years into a new package.”
What’s included on the scorecard?
The card, called the McCance Brain Care Score, calculates scores across 12 physical, lifestyle and social-emotional domains.
physical components involved
- blood pressure
- blood sugar
- Body mass index (BMI)
Lifestyle components include
- alcohol intake
- aerobic activity
Social Emotional Factors Inquiry
- stress management
- social relationship
- meaning in life.
Each answer is scored as 0, 1 or 2, with a maximum total score of 21. Higher scores indicate better brain care.
“All of these physical and lifestyle factors may increase the risk of dementia to some degree through stroke,” Dr. Bardson said. “Those situations where there is no risk of stroke are often related to the fact that a healthy brain is one that is using all its parts. Engaging in healthy relationships and meaningful activities helps us maintain good brain structure and function.”
What does analysis involve?
The study was published online in Frontiers in Neurology December 2023. The project involves nearly 399,000 adults aged 40 to 69 (average age 57; 54% female) who contributed personal health information to UK Biobank.
During an average follow-up period of 12.5 years, participants recorded 5,354 new cases of dementia and 7,259 cases of stroke. The researchers found that participants who had higher brain care scores at the start of the study had a lower risk of developing dementia or stroke over time.
These threats to health and independence are taking a shocking and growing toll on the American people. One in seven Americans has dementia, and this rate is expected to triple by 2050. Meanwhile, more than 795,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke each year, according to the CDC.
What did the research find?
Each five-point increase in BCS rating at the start of the study was associated with a significantly lower risk of dementia and stroke, but these odds varied by age group:
- Participants who were younger than 50 years old at the start of the study For every five points higher in BCS score, the likelihood of developing dementia is 59% lower and the likelihood of stroke is 48% lower.
- Participants who were 50 to 59 years old at the start of the study For every five points higher in BCS score, the likelihood of developing dementia is 32% lower and the likelihood of stroke is 52% lower.
But at the start of the study, the benefits for these brain diseases appeared to be diminished for people over 59. For every 5-point increase in BCS score, the group’s odds of developing dementia were only 8% lower and their risk of stroke was 33% lower. The study authors speculated that some of the participants may have already suffered from early-stage dementia, which is difficult to detect until the disease progresses.
“I feel very reassured that the study’s conclusions are absolutely correct because all the factors that influence BCS are well known and there are steps people can take to reduce their risk of stroke and dementia,” Dr. Bardson said.
What are the limitations of the study?
However, Dr. Bardson noted that the study did have some limitations. UK Biobank failed to capture all components of the BCS in its dataset, lacking meaning-in-life issues. So its score range is from 0 to 19, rather than the maximum of 21. “That’s a practical limitation, but it should be acknowledged that so far there have been no studies to validate the actual 21-point scale they recommend we use,” he said.
The analysis also assessed participants’ scores at one time point rather than multiple time points, Dr. Bardson said. Future research should determine whether people can reduce their risk of stroke and dementia by improving BCS through behavioral and lifestyle changes over time.
How to play this game at home?
While better brain health may be the obvious reward for higher scores, it’s far from the only benefit. This is because improving any health component of the BCS also benefits our overall well-being.
“By improving these factors, people can not only help their brain, but also their heart and reduce their risk of cancer,” Dr. Bardson added. “These factors will definitely improve your mental health as well, which is certainly an important component of brain health.”
The scale’s simple breakdown of health factors also makes it easy to focus on tweaking one or two factors without getting overwhelmed.
“Let’s say someone’s nutrition isn’t perfect – and they know that – but they’re unwilling to change their diet. OK. Then they could decide to do more cardio, for example, or stop drinking alcohol, or accept their body Need sleep,” he said.
What one change could put you on the path to better brain health?
If he had to pick one factor to improve brain health, Dr. Bardson would focus on meaning in life, “meaning you generally feel like your life has meaning or purpose,” he said. To do this, he recommends thinking deeply and quietly about what you want your life to be, whether you want to live a long time or just a few years.
“Once you have a goal, then you have a reason to consistently evaluate all the other items on the BCS scale to see what you can do so that you can live longer and be more empowered and able to help achieve the goal in your life. meaning and purpose,” he said.