A new tool known as the Brain Care Score (BCS) shows promise as a way to assess stroke or dementia risk without going through a medical procedure. The BCS rates how a person fares on 12 health-related factors concerning physical, lifestyle, and social-emotional components of health, according to a study published in December in the journal Frontiers in Neurology. The authors found participants with a higher score had a lower risk of developing dementia or suffering a stroke later in life.

The study’s senior author, Dr. Jonathan Rosand, cofounder of the McCance Center for Brain Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the components of the BCS include recommendations found in the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Essential 8”for cardiovascular health, as well as many modifiable risk factors for common cancers. He noted that “What’s good for the brain is good for the heart and the rest of the body.”

The physiological components assessed in BCS include blood pressure, cholesterol, hemoglobin A1c,and body mass index. Lifestyle factors include nutrition, alcohol consumption, aerobic activities, sleep, and smoking. Social-emotional aspects refer to relationships, stress management, and how one experiences a sense of meaning in life. Researchers examined nearly 400,000 participants at the beginning of the 4-year study and looked into the associations between their Brain Care Scores and whether they had dementia or stroke around 12 years later. They consistently found lower risk of dementia and stroke associated with better scores, although the risk differences markedly narrowed for study participants over age 59 — notably more so for dementia risk than stroke risk. The authors concluded the less significant benefits for older adults could be because in this age group, dementia tends to progress more slowly, meaning practitioners may not pick up on a patient having early dementia until it gets worse later.

Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of research at the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Florida (who wasn’t involved in the study), observed that most people are unaware that at least 40% of dementia cases may be preventable if a person does everything right. He added that the Brain Care Score helps people at risk with “a roadmap forward based on 12 modifiable factors before the onset of cognitive decline.” He said it is important for people to “know their numbers” as far as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar control, which are factors in the Brain Care Score. “Better control of these vascular risk factors has the power to slam the breaks on the road to cognitive decline (and) dementia, as well as stroke,” he said.

He added, “When you combine this with better dietary choices, less alcohol, having a sense of purpose in life, and staying socially engaged, the dividends add up greatly over time.”

He also said participating in studies like this one for BCS can be a good way to manage your brain health, especially if you have limited access to health care. Isaacson is a coinvestigator on a National Institutes of Health-funded study soon to be done. He said people can sign up at YourBrainStudy.org in order to be notified when the study is launched. At that site people can obtain a free risk assessment, memory tests, and personalized advice conveniently through their cell phone. Participants eligible for the study must be at least 53 years old, have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, but have no current symptoms of cognitive decline themselves.

You can read more about dementia risk in our AgeWise Colorado articles at the following links:

Living Alone with Dementia Heightens Safety and Health Risks – AgeWise Colorado

Nearness to Nature May Lower Risk of Dementia – AgeWise Colorado

Later-in-Life Education May Help Keep Dementia at Bay – AgeWise Colorado

Or view our webinar at https://agewisecolorado.org/blog/can-we-slow-the-dementia-alzheimers-epidemic/