Lessons on brain health from a fundamental study of the heart

At age 70 and counting, the Framingham Heart Study continues to help clinicians better understand stroke, dementia and heart disease.

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In 1948, more than 5,200 people living in a city just west of Boston volunteered for what evolved into the most long-lived and best known study of the causes of heart disease. But the multigenerational Framingham Heart Study also revealed important clues about brain disorders – especially stroke but also cognitive decline and dementia (see "Framingham's Brain Health Discoveries").

In the early 1960s, Framingham researchers coined the term "risk factor", which refers to a characteristic or an exposure that raises a person's chances of developing a disease. In the decades that followed, they discovered many of these factors for heart disease, including cigarette smoking, obesity, lack of physical activity and hypertension. These habits and conditions have also proved to predispose people to stroke and dementia, thus establishing that what damages the heart is also negative for the brain.

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