A new study shows that patients with coronary heart disease are at greater risk of having cognitive decline later on.
Researchers found that scores on cognitive function, including verbal memory and orientation of time, declined faster after patients received a diagnosis of heart disease than those who did not.
The study was published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The director of research for the Rush Heart Center for Women and a cognitive neurologist at its Cardiology Cognitive Clinic Dr. Neelum Aggarwal said, “This study adds to the increasing body of literature that showcases how the heart and brain work together.” She was not part of the study.
She wrote in an email, “We are now seeing more issues related to cognitive function from heart disease as more people are living longer, and also undergoing more heart procedures, and placed on medications.”
The study authors said previous studies on the issue have often focused on the conditions such as strokes and sometimes changes in cognitive function. However, the new study found a long-term impact on the brain.
The authors noted, “Heart attack patients had a significantly faster memory decline than those with an incident angina.”
The new study findings suggest there could be a slow process that affects blood flow and the brain; however, how it works is still unclear. It is also unclear whether there could be other external factors. For instance, the authors noted that they could not exclude the impact of medicine and other treatments that clinicians prescribe to patients with newly diagnosed heart disease.
Dr. Aggarwal said, “Teasing out what contributes the most to cognitive decline may be difficult, as persons with heart disease have multiple medical conditions operating at the same time. Medications are a huge factor, including whether they are taken as prescribed.”
Although the changes in cognitive tests appeared relatively small, the study authors said, “Even miniscule differences in cognitive function can result in a substantially increased risk of dementia over several years.” As there is no cure for dementia, it is important to find ways to prevent it, detect it early, and intervene early.
Dr. Aggarwal said, “First step is to encourage patients to tell their physicians about their memory concerns. Often patients don’t mention this.” She encouraged clinicians and patients to go over medicines and make sure they are taken as recommended. She also recommended talking about lifestyle changes that can positively affect your health. She said, “What is good for your heart is good for your head.”