Heart Disease Could Be Contributing To Cognitive Decline In Older Women

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Source: Alvin Trusty

Source: Alvin Trusty

A new study says older women with a history of heart problems were more likely to develop thinking and memory problems than those without heart disease, adding evidence to a link doctors had already suspected existed. Women who had suffered a heart attack were specifically affected, seeing their risk jump twice as high as healthy participants.

The connection had been assumed for a while, “but our study provides new evidence on a broad scale including many different types of heart disease with a specific focus on postmenopausal women.” lead author Dr. Bernhard Haring told Reuters Health.

Haring and his colleagues from the Comprehensive Heart Failure Center at the University of W├╝rzburg in Germany used date from a long-term study of more than 6,000 women aged 65 to 79.

The researchers surveys the women to see if they had been diagnosed with any heart problems, then gave them a test of brain function at the beginning of the study. The participants were also given brain function tests once a year throughout the study. At the beginning of the study nearly 900 reported having heart disease, but none of the women showed thinking and memory problems at the start.

After roughly eight years, more than 400 women showed signs of cognitive decline or dementia. Women who reported heart disease were 29 percent more likely to have cognitive problems than those without heart disease.

Women who had previously suffered a heart attack were at the highest risk of developing thinking and memory trouble, as the researchers reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Notably, neither abnormal heart rhythm nor heart failure was linked to a decline in brain function.

The study is especially notable for its robust sample size. Few studies have examined so many women to really investigate what may be causing cognitive decline.

“Given that the number of individuals suffering from dementia is increasing in all developed countries, it is important and necessary to first investigate the reasons of why this is happening and to identify those particularly at risk and second to find measures on how to prevent and treat affected individuals,” Haring said.

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