The researchers found that postmenopausal women with heart disease or vascular disease—such as hypertension—were 29 percent more likely to experience cognitive decline than those without a cardiovascular disorder. Risk for cognitive impairment was doubled among women who experienced a heart attack, compared with those who did not have such an event. Diabetes and a history of undergoing major cardiac surgery also increased risk for cognitive decline. Obesity was not found to alter cognitive function in the women in this study.
“Women with heart disease should be monitored by their doctors for potential cognitive decline,” said Bernhard Haring, M.D., M.P.H., a clinical fellow in the Comprehensive Heart Failure Center at the University of Würzburg in Germany. “It is also very important to adequately manage heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes.” The researchers concluded that more studies are warranted to discover ways in which preventing cardiovascular disease may preserve cognitive health as we age.
Commenting on this study, geriatric psychiatrist and former APA President Dilip Jeste, M.D., told Psychiatric News,"This is an important study. It is known that for mental functioning, the second most critical organ in the body (after the brain) is the heart. Compromised blood supply to the brain because of heart disease is likely to affect cognitive functioning. Also, some of the factors underlying heart disease also are risk factors for dementia. I concur with the recommendation for careful cognitive monitoring of people with heart disease. I should also add that depression following myocardial infarction and stroke is quite common and presents an opportunity for prevention through early detection and proactive management with psychosocial interventions."
Cardiovascular disease is not the only physical illness factor that has been found to increase one's risk for cognitive decline. To read about other morbidities that may do so, see the Psychiatric News articles, "Dementia-Risk Rises in Patients With Depression and Diabetes" and "Add Cognitive Decline to List of Smoking Sequelae."