Heart conditions before 60 linked to memory and thinking problems in later life

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By Quang Tran | Thursday 26 January 2023

A team of scientists in the US have found that people who had heart conditions in middle-age were more likely to have memory and thinking problems in later life. Researchers say that keeping a healthy heart in early adulthood may delay the onset of cognitive decline and can help maintain brain health during our lifetime.

The study was published today (Wednesday 25 January) in the journal Neurology.

 Researchers analysed data from the CARDIA cohort study, which wanted to understand how heart problems in middle age might affect brain health in later life.  Starting in 1983, people aged 18-30 were followed for thirty years, and were tested on their memory and thinking skills throughout the study. The scientists used MRI scans to look for changes to assess the health of regions of the brain, associated with cognitive decline.

A total of 3,146 people were included in the study, and 147 (5%) of them went on to develop heart conditions such as a stroke, heart attacks, and coronary heart disease. The average age for a first cardiovascular event was age 48.

People with heart conditions in middle age scored lower across memory and thinking tests compared to those that didn’t have heart conditions. Changes to regions of the brain associated with cognitive decline were also seen more in people with heart conditions.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

Dr Rosa Sancho

“There is strong evidence to support the idea that what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. While cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline are both more common in old age, this study found that people with heart conditions in middle-age were more likely to have issues with memory and thinking compared those with a healthy heart.  They also had signs of poorer brain health from their MRI scans.

“People weren’t given memory and thinking tests at the beginning of the study, so we cannot be completely sure that cognitive skills declined following a heart condition. However, we know from other studies that taking action to improve heart and brain health in mid-life can help reduce the risk of heart problems and dementia later in life.

 

“It’s never too early or too late to make changes to improve our brain health. Last week we launched the Think Brain Health Check-in where people can see how well they are looking after their own brain health and the steps to improve it. You can do the check-in here at www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/brain-health/think-brain-health/”.

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Quang Tran