Alzheimer's Risk Higher If Poor Heart Function's Involved

First Posted: Mar 03, 2015 06:37 PM EST

The heart is one of the most essential organs. Without it, our body would fail to function; no longer pumping nourishing, oxygen-giving blood throughout and to other vital organs.

A new study published in the journal Circulation found that dementia and Alzheimer's disease patients were two to three times more likely to develop significant memory loss during a follow-up period if they had poor heart function.

"Heart function could prove to be a major risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer's disease," said Angela Jefferson, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer's Center, and principal investigator of the study, in a news release. "A very encouraging aspect of our findings is that heart health is a modifiable risk. You may not be able to change your genetics or family history, but you can engage in a heart healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise at any point in your lifetime."

For the study, researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study, which was based on an effort that began in 1948 to identify risk factors for heart disease. About 1,039 participants from Framingham's Offspring Cohort were followed up to 11 years to compare cardiac index to the development of dementia.

Throughout this time, 32 people developed dementia, including 26 cases of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers found that individuals with a clinically low caridiac index had a higher relative risk of dementia when compared to a normal cardiac index.

"We thought heart disease might be driving the increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. When we excluded participants with heart disease and other heart conditions, we were surprised that the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease got even worse," Jefferson added.

Previous studies have associated heart health with brain health. However, it's only recently that cardiac index has been recognized as a link to memory loss or dementia.

"The risk we found between lower cardiac index and the development of dementia may reflect a subtle but protracted process that occurs over decades --essentially a lifetime burden of subtle reductions in oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain. That possibility is concerning given the observation that one in three participants in our study met the medical definition for low cardiac index."

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