The study, which was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests monitoring and controlling heart disease may be important to maintain and improve cognitive health later in life.
Over the 21 years, the study initially measured the risk of heart disease for each participant, as well as annual memory and thinking tests.
The Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and Newyork-Presbyterian director, Dr. Richard Isaacson, said people with more risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity experienced more cognitive decline than people with healthier hearts.
“There are many specific cardiovascular risk factors, and each can either individually, or in combination, push the fast-forward button towards different aspects of cognitive decline,” Dr. Isaacson said.
“This study focused on individual areas of cognition, such as memory and processing speed, and helps to clarify complex interrelationships between heart and brain health.
“High blood pressure and diabetes can accelerate shrinkage of the brain.
“High cholesterol can increase the bad protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
“Decreased blood flow can cause ‘white spots’ on brain scans that can lead to slowed processing speed.
“Making active lifestyle changes and seeing a doctor who can help control modifiable risk factors, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and tobacco use is our best bet to maintain optimal brain function,” he said.
The Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York director, Dr. Costantino Ladecola, said this research is timely with the progressive increase in dementia patients.
“The results of this study suggest a useful tool for assessing dementia risk and support recommendations to aggressively manage cardiovascular risk factors in midlife,” Dr Ladecola said
Dementia affects over 50 million people worldwide, and with 10 million new cases every year, dementia was the second leading cause of death in 2017 according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The World Health Organisation predicts dementia will affect over 82 million people in the world by 2030.