According to research presented this week at EuroHeartCare 2019, two-thirds of people who suffer from heart failure also show signs of memory problems. During the scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology, it was shown that there was a direct link between exercise and healthy brain function in heart failure patients.
The study presented used data from the HF-Wii study, which had 605 people enrolled with heart failure from six different countries. All participants had an average age of 67, and 71 percent were male. During the study, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test was used to measure cognitive function and exercise capacity was measured with the six-minute walk test.
The research showed that heart failure patients who walked further in a six-minute test as well as those who were younger and highly educated were significantly less likely to show signs of cognitive impairment. The results suggest that those who show a higher level of fitness have healthier brain function.
In heart failure patients, the cognitive abilities that are mainly damaged are memory, executive function (planning, paying attention, making decision, setting goals, starting tasks), and processing speed (time it takes to understand and react to information).
Study author Professor Ercole Vellone of the University of Rome said, “These areas are important for memorizing healthcare information and having the correct understanding and response to the disease process. For example, heart failure patients with mild cognitive impairment may forget to take medicines and may not comprehend that weight gain is an alarming situation that requires prompt intervention.”
The Message for Patients
“The message for patients with heart failure is to exercise. We don’t have direct evidence yet that physical activity improves cognition in heart failure patients, but we know it improves their quality and length of life. In addition, studies in older adults have shown that exercise is associated with improved cognition – we hope to show the same for heart failure patients in future studies.”
The study showed that cognitive problems are common in those with heart failure. At least 67 percent of all patients tested had some form of mild cognitive impairment. “Clinicians might need to adapt their educational approach with heart failure patients – for example involving a family caregiver to oversee patient adherence to the prescribed treatment,” said Professor Vellone.
“There is a misconception that patients with heart failure should not exercise. That is clearly not the case. Find an activity you enjoy that you can do regularly. It could be walking, swimming, or any number of activities. There is good evidence that it will improve your health and your memory, and make you feel better.”