If you follow health news at all, you’ll probably hear something today about new research linking heart disease and cognitive decline. A large new study showed older women with heart disease were three times as likely to suffer from mild cognitive impairment, a type of noticeable but not debilitating trouble with thinking and mental processing that’s often a precursor to dementia.
The key takeaway here is not that heart disease causes dementia, though I’m sure misguided headlines and tweets will make the claim. This is not a ‘get heart disease, start forgetting where you placed the car keys’ type of situation, but rather a sign of how vascular health all over our bodies is linked.
We all know that when arteries are clogged, it impairs blood flow to the heart and can lead to heart problems. Well, the same holds true for our brains. When those arteries are clogged and vascular functioning is impaired, it also thwarts blood flow to the brain — leading to nerve cell death, mild cognitive impairment, stroke and dementia.
In the study, a total of 2719 participants from Olmsted County, Minn., were given a neurological evaluation and neuropsychological testing every 15 months for four years. Over the course of the study, those with heart disease were more likely to develop non-amnesiac mild cognitive impairment, meaning cognitive impairment not associated to memory loss.
“Prevention and management of cardiac disease and vascular risk factors may reduce the risk of (non-amnesiac mild cognitive impairment),” the researchers concluded. The study was published online Jan. 28 in the journal JAMA Neurology.