OXFORD researchers are exploring the link between heart and brain in a new study they hope will transform the lives of people affected by dementia.

Researcher Dr Sana Suri is leading the study, funded by Alzheimer’s Society, and will investigate how heart health during mid-life affects people's brain health as they grow older.

The health of our hearts is vital for supplying brain cells with energy and oxygen. Poor heart health, or carrying the Alzheimer’s risk gene APOE4, can increase risk of dementia.

57-year-old Julie Thomas, a nursing assistant from Oxford whose mother has dementia, recently signed up for Alzheimer’s Society’s annual fundraising event, Memory Walk, in Oxford, to raise vital funds for research and services. She met Dr Suri, who is also taking part in the walk, to learn more about the local research taking place.

Julie said “This is the second time I will have taken part in Oxford Memory Walk. My mother was diagnosed with dementia about four years ago, so it is a cause very close to my heart.

Oxford Mail:

Julie Thomas

“As a Nursing Assistant at the John Radcliffe Hospital, many of the patients on my ward have dementia so myself and some work colleagues will be walking together and thinking about them and their families, as well as our own.

“It has been fascinating to visit Dr Suri and find out more about her work."

Research shows that 850,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia. By 2021, 1 million people will be living with the condition. This will soar to two million by 2051. Alzheimer's Society is committed to spending at least £150 million over the next decade on dementia research to improve care and find a cure.

Dr Suri said: “We know that what is good for the heart is good for the head. Research suggests that improving your heart health through diet and exercise can help to reduce risk of dementia.

“The aim of my study is to find out how cardiovascular conditions affect cerebrovascular reactivity – the ability that our body has to increase blood supply to the brain when it needs more energy and oxygen - and how this impacts on memory.

Oxford Mail:

Dr Sana Suri

“I am using a new brain scanning technique to understand how, and at what stage, poor cardiovascular health can affect how we regulate the blood supply to the brain and how this in turn affects memory."

Dr Suri’s project at the University of Oxford involves 140 people from the UK Whitehall II Imaging cohort – a group of people who have already had annual heart health tests since they were 40 years old.

At 70 they also had brain scans and memory and thinking assessments. With this unique group of people Dr Suri will investigate how brain health in older age is linked to heart health in middle age.

Visit memorywalk.org.uk.