Heart Disease Increased Dementia Risks in Older Women

Cognitive decline was more common in women with cardiovascular disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Dementia, a condition that affects memory and thinking abilities, is most often associated with aging. New research has found there may be a link between dementia and heart disease.

A new study involving thousands of postmenopausal women has discovered that heart disease may increase the risk of dementia.

Women who'd had heart attacks had double the risk of cognitive decline as women who had not had heart attacks.

Even certain heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure and diabetes, increased women’s risks of diminished brain function over time. However, obesity did not impact risks of cognitive decline.

"Take care of your heart health."

In this study directed by Bernhard Haring, MD, MPH, clinical fellow in the Comprehensive Heart Failure Center and the Department of Internal Medicine I at the University of Würzburg in Germany, a team of researchers looked at the association between heart disease and cognitive abilities in women between the ages of 65 and 79.

Cognitive function has to do with a person’s ability to remember, plan, perform tasks, problem solve, learn, pay attention, process information and use language.

For this study, the researchers reviewed data on 6,455 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMSL). This study was designed to detect mild cognitive impairment and probable dementia in four phases.

The tools used to assess brain function included surveys, neuropsychological tests, standardized interviews, examination by physicians who specialize in dementia, blood tests and CT (computed tomography) scans.

The researchers found that women with any form of cardiovascular disease had a 29 percent higher risk of cognitive decline than women with no cardiovascular disease.

The highest risks of cognitive impairment were seen in women who had had a heart attack or other vascular (blood vessels) disease. These women had a two-fold greater risk of diminished brain function than women with no history of heart attack or vascular disease.

Angina pectoris, a condition which causes chest pain due to lack of blood in heart muscles, increased cognitive decline risks by 45 percent.

Women who had heart bypass surgery, carotid endarterectomy (surgical removal of blockage in a neck artery) or peripheral artery disease (PAD, diseased blood vessels outside the heart and brain) were also determined to be at greater risk for cognitive decline than women who had not undergone these procedures and had no history of PAD.

No significant relationship was seen between atrial fibrillation or heart failure and brain function.

Women with high blood pressure or diabetes were found to have higher risks for cognitive decline compared to women without these risk factors.

Obesity was not associated with increased cognitive impairment risks.

“As dementia is an increasingly significant problem in developed countries, more research is warranted on the potential of [cardiovascular disease] prevention for the preservation of cognitive health,” the study's authors concluded.

This study was published December 18 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

One of the authors reported a financial relationship with two pharmaceutical companies.

Review Date: 
December 18, 2013
Last Updated:
December 18, 2013