New research shows that women with a higher cardiovascular risk in mid-life have a stronger association with a decline in memory skills compared to men. Despite a higher prevalence of cardiovascular conditions in men, the new study suggests that women have a greater risk of cognitive decline.
The research published in the American Academy of Neurology’s medical journal used the population-based Mayo Clinic study of aging, which included 1,857 participants without dementia who were between the ages of 50 to 69 at their initial visit.
Every 15 months for an average of three years, all participants’ global cognition was evaluated using nine language, memory, spatial skills, and executive function tests.
The population-based Rochester Epidemiology Project gathered cardiovascular conditions and risk factor information. Conditions included in this analysis were coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, heart rhythm disorders, peripheral artery disease, and stroke. Risk factors included diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and smoking. Approximately 79% of the participants had at least one cardiovascular risk factor or condition.
The study found most cardiovascular conditions were more strongly associated with cognitive function among women. For example, the annual decline for global cognition associated with coronary artery disease was more than two times greater for women compared to men. Diabetes, high cholesterol, and coronary artery disease were also associated with more significant greater language decline in women.
One difference noticed was that congestive heart failure was associated with a greater language decline in men.
Additional research is needed to understand sex differences in the development of cognitive impairment. Middle-aged adults, especially women with a history of heart disease, need to be examined as subgroups for early monitoring. Researchers believe there is much more to be learned about the relationship between cardiovascular factors and cognition, such as genetics, hormones, lifestyle and physiological factors.
This isn’t the first study to suggest a link between heart health, memory, and brain function. Although research hasn’t pinpointed the exact relationship between the conditions, there is apparently a connection. This is why it is so essential to practice healthy lifestyle behaviors that can help keep the heart and brain healthy.
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