Cardiovascular diseases accelerate deterioration of brain health
People with cardiovascular diseases experience faster cognitive decline with age, with vascular constrictions posing a particularly high risk factor. This is the key finding of two studies conducted at Maastricht UMC+, which followed almost 2,000 people over twelve years to trace possible links between cardiovascular diseases and cognitive health. The research and findings have been published in the most recent editions of European Heart Journal and PLOS ONE.
Part of the Maastricht Aging Study, the studies followed some 2,000 people over a 12-year period to examine changes in various cognitive functions such as memory, attention and speed of processing information. To investigate the link with cardiovascular diseases, scientists selected 1,823 people, all of whom had initial good cognitive health. Just over ten per cent had a known cardiovascular condition, including prior occurrence of heart attack, vascular constrictions or heart failure. The subjects' cognitive health was subsequently re-evaluated and compared at intervals of six and twelve years.
Comparison of people with existing cardiovascular conditions and those with no cardiovascular symptoms revealed that after twelve years those in the first group scored significantly lower on tests for memory and information processing speed, amongst others. Those who developed cardiovascular problems during the study period also scored more poorly on cognitive tests. Notably, this decline became observable only after the cardiovascular problems arose. 'That marked the point when cognitive functions became impaired', explains principal investigator Sebastian Köhler of the Alzheimer Centre in Limburg. 'This study furnishes solid proof of the correlation between cardiovascular and brain health.'
To further reinforce their findings, the researchers also analysed various other international studies, focusing on specific cardiovascular disorders in relation to dementia and cognitive health. Based on these additional data they were able to conclude that vascular constrictions in particular pose an elevated risk (up to 45 per cent) to cognitive function. Says Köhler, 'In terms of prevention, timely and careful intervention at the first sign of cardiovascular symptoms is crucial. Lifestyle modification plays an important part in that, benefiting not only heart and vascular health, but also the health of the brain.'