Heart Risk Tied to Memory Problems

Elevated Heart Disease Risk Linked to Cognitive Problems in Study

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 23, 2011 -- Middle-aged men and women with heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol may also be at risk for memory problems as they age.

A new study to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology 63rd Annual Meeting in April shows that people with an elevated heart disease risk in middle age were more likely to have associated memory and other cognitive problems.

Researchers found that people who have a 10% higher risk of cardiovascular disease were more likely to have lower cognitive function and a faster rate of cognitive decline, compared to people with the lowest risk of heart disease.

"Our findings contribute to the mounting evidence for the role of cardiovascular risk factors, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, contributing to cognitive problems, starting in middle age," researcher Sara Kaffashian, MSc, of INSERM, the French National Institute of Health & Medical Research in Paris, says in a news release. "The study further demonstrates how these heart disease risk factors can contribute to cognitive decline over a 10-year period."

The Study

The study looked at heart disease risk and cognitive function in more than 4,800 middle-aged men and women in the U.K. who participated in a long-term British study.

The participants had their blood pressure, cholesterol, and other heart disease risk factors measured three times over a 10-year period and were also tested on various areas of cognitive function.

Researchers found that middle-aged men and women with a 10% higher than average heart disease risk scored lower on all cognitive areas except reasoning for men and fluency for women.

For example, a 10% higher heart disease risk was associated with a 2.8% lower score on memory tests among men and a 7.1% lower score among women.

This study will be presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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SOURCES: American Academy of Neurology 63 Annual Meeting, Honolulu, April 9-16, 2011.News release, American Academy of Neurology.

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