The eye-opening connection between heart health and cognitive decline

A higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing cognitive decline, according to new findings published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The World Health Organization estimates that 82 million people will be affected by dementia by the year 2030—could maintaining a healthy heart be one way to keep such conditions at bay?

The authors focused on what can be learned from assessing a person’s Framingham General Cardiovascular Risk Score (FGCRS), exploring data from more than 1,500 dementia-free study participants. Data came from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, and the average age was 79.5 years old. Participants were tracked for 21 years, with the researchers studying episodic memory, semantic memory, working memory, visuospatial ability and perceptual speed.

Overall, a high risk of CVD was associated with a faster decline in episodic memory, working memory and perceptual speed. Additional imaging research on 378 participants also revealed that a higher FGCRS was associated with a smaller volume of hippocampus, cortical gray matter and total brain.

“In the absence of effective treatments for dementia, we need to monitor and control cardiovascular risk burden as a way to maintain patient’s cognitive health as they age,” co-author Weili Xu, PhD, Tianjin Medical University in Tianjin, China, said in a statement. “Given the progressive increase in the number of dementia cases worldwide, our findings have both clinical and public health relevance.”