By On July 31st, 2008

Link between Heart Disease and Later Dementia

Some researchers believe they have found a link between heart disease and impaired cognition and later dementia. Judith Groch in Medpage today writes, “Coronary heart disease in midlife is associated with poorer results on cognitive tests, such as reasoning, vocabulary, and verbal fluency, with the effect particularly marked in men, a study found.”

Archana Singh-Manoux, Ph.D., of University College London and INSERM in Villejuif Cedex, France, and colleagues utilized data from the Whitehall II study which consisted of 10,308 civil servants working in Whitehall London, 33% of which were women, and began in 1985. “Coronary heart disease events were assessed up to the 2002 to 2004 phase of the study when 5,837 participants (28.4% women) took six cognitive tests: verbal and mathematical reasoning, vocabulary, phonemic and semantic fluency, memory, and the mini-mental-state-examination (MMSE).”

Among men the results showed that those having a history of coronary heart disease scored lower on reasoning, vocabulary and the MMSE. The study also found:

Among men, the trend within coronary heart disease cases suggested progressively
lower scores on reasoning, vocabulary and semantic fluency among those with a
longer duration of heart disease.

Men whose first coronary event occurred more than 10 years before had lower scores on reasoning (22.94, 95% CI 24.35 to 21.52), vocabulary (23.58, 95% CI 25.00 to 22.16), semantic fluency (22.10, 95% CI 23.54 to 20.64), and the MMSE (21.84, 95% CI 23.35 to 20.32). The test for trend and an examination of the effect for each five-year period among men suggests a trend for lower cognitive scores for verbal and mathematical reasoning and semantic fluency with increase in the time since a first cardiac event.

Among women, the association between time since the first event diagnosed 10 years earlier and cognitive performance showed a trend toward lower scores for semantic fluency. However, for this analysis, the numbers were small.

While the study suggests that there is a correlation between heart disease and dementia, it is uncertain exactly how the one affects the other. Grouch reports “At this point the researchers said they cannot explain the pathophysiological pathway for their findings. It is possible, they said, that shared risk factors drive this association or that impaired cognition or incipient dementia may in itself lead to coronary heart disease through poor health self-care.”

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