Thermoregulation, Strokes, and Dementia: A Healthy Heart Begets a Healthy Brain


J. Mark Van Ness: 0000-0001-5902-8735

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Health, Exercise, and Sport Sciences Department

Conference Title

2018 ACSM National Conference


American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)


Minneapolis, MN

Conference Dates

May 29 - June 2, 2018

Date of Presentation


Journal Publication

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise









Publication Date


First Page



More than 5 million Americans live with dementia; it affects 10% of the population over age 65. There is no cure, but recognition of risk factors could be helpful for prevention. Identifying demographic, genetic, and behavioral risk factors can improve the prescription of lifestyle choices, such as exercise training, to minimize risk.

PURPOSE: To evaluate predictors of dementia in a patient population.

METHODS: We obtained the patient registry of a hospital in the Midwestern United States. Demographic data, vital signs, health history, and current diagnoses were recorded. There were 2,244 consecutive patients admitted over a 3-year period who met inclusionary criteria; 105 of these patients had a diagnosis of dementia. Logistic regression tested the effects of age, sex, vital signs, and diagnostic history on incidence of dementia in this sample.

RESULTS: Significant predictors of dementia were age (p<0.001), diastolic blood pressure (p=0.048), core temperature (p=0.040), presence of a bleeding disorder (p=0.028), and diagnosis of a previous stroke (p<0.001). For each degree F that core temperature increased, the odds of dementia were elevated by 44% (95% CI: 1.02 to 2.05). A history of stroke was the most pronounced predictor of dementia (95% CI: 1.89 to 7.57). When history of stroke was analyzed as the dependent variable, core temperature continued to be a significant predictor (p=0.025); holding all other variables constant, each additional degree F associated with a 48% elevation in the odds of a stroke (95% CI: 1.05 to 2.10).

CONCLUSION: Age and cardiovascular function are known risk factors for strokes, and strokes are a known risk factor for dementia. In this sample, core temperature emerged as a significant predictor of both stroke and dementia. While poor thermoregulation may be a consequence. rather than a cause, of dementia, a possible consideration is the relationship between heat in the brain, cerebral oxygen demand, and blood brain barrier permeability. The brain’s energy demand is several orders of magnitude greater than other body cells, and thus temperature dissipation for the brain is vitally important. Because exercise training improves thermoregulatory capacity, it is possible that this capacity could benefit the brain in previously unidentified ways.