Regardless of your age, you’ll probably want to do everything you can to increase your lifespan and overall quality of life. Although less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day, it’s one of the best ways to safeguard your health in the long term. Eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, and reducing stress when possible will also go a long way. Since much of Florida’s population is comprised of older residents, it’s essential to have as much information as possible. But unfortunately, we can’t always control or predict the onset of certain diseases. And, according to one recent study, the fact that you get frequent and debilitating headaches could make you that much more likely to develop dementia later in life.
That’s right: new research suggests that migraines may be an important risk factor in dementia disease development, including Alzheimer’s onset. That might be alarming to the 13% of U.S. adults who reportedly experience migraine headaches. The study, which was published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, found that seniors with migraines were three times more likely to develop dementia and more than four times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
As with any initial study, however, there are limitations. For one thing, participants self-reported their symptoms. There was no real distinction made between migraines with or without auras, either. And perhaps most interesting was the fact that there were no “male participants with migraines who developed dementia,” meaning that gender may play a more central role than what the study found. Women are more likely to experience migraines than men — of 39 million American migraine sufferers, 28 million are women — and they’re also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. While men have a one in 11 chance of developing Alzheimer’s, the chance that a woman will develop the disease is one in five. In other words, this study might not be as balanced as researchers would like to believe, though many women might be right to feel worried about either of these conditions. After all, 90% of people who experience migraines have a family member with the same condition.
But even though correlation doesn’t equal causation, the study authors urge others in the medical and scientific fields to take a closer look at these headaches and their long-term effects.
Senior author Dr. Suzanne L Tyas noted in the study, “Our results show that we should be paying attention to migraines in Alzheimer’s disease, and that this future research is warranted to fully understand what it is about migraines that affect Alzheimer’s disease, and how we can mitigate this risk.”
This may be especially troubling news for Floridians, as there were 540,000 residents over the age of 65 with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018. By 2025, that number is expected to reach 720,000 in the Sunshine State alone. And since over half of U.S. households led by seniors aged 60 and up are planning to age in place, this could derail Florida residents’ plans to stay out of nursing homes, as dementia isn’t always compatible with independent living or familial care. Since migraines are already mysterious — with different triggers, symptoms, and severity experienced by sufferers and no one definitive cause — it may feel impossible to ensure long-term health.
Ultimately though, we may not have enough information to draw a definitive conclusion as yet. Even though dementia and migraines are among the most common neurological concerns, there’s nothing to suggest that migraines actually cause dementia or even make it more likely for you to develop it. It could be that there’s a consideration that increases the risk of both conditions. What’s more, taking conscious steps to reduce your migraine frequency — like increasing sleep, reducing stress, and avoiding food triggers — could also end up decreasing your dementia risk.
In other words, you don’t have to panic quite yet if you suffer from migraines. But if you do, you’ll probably want to find a way to mitigate those factors. Although we don’t have enough information on the link between migraines and dementia quite yet, it’s a good bet that improving your health in the here and now will do wonders down the road.