Memory loss and worsening thinking skills in midlife have been linked to heart health, the researchers found.
A new study has reported that small changes in the heart could be a risk factor for cognitive decline in midlife.
Risk markers for lower thinking and memory skills in midlife may show up in the heart even before heart disease occurs, the study concluded.
Heart health risks such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes have already been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline.
However, much less was known specifically about changes in heart structure and heart function in relation to mental processes and capacity.
The study was published in Neurology, t Medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, Jan. 26.
The experts followed young adults into middle age over a 25-year period and found declines in thinking and memory skills associated with heart structure and function.
“Our findings are critically important in the context of identifying potential early markers in the heart of increased risk of cognitive decline in later life,” said study author Laure Rouch, PharmD, PhD, of the University of California in San Francisco.
“Such abnormalities are common and are often underdiagnosed as they do not produce any obvious symptoms.”
The researchers analyzed a group of 2,653 people with an average age of 30 over 25 years.
The participants had echocardiograms, ultrasound images of the heart, done at the beginning of the study, then after 20 and 25 years.
In the final year of the study, the participants’ thinking and memory skills were measured using six cognitive tests, including a test that included recalling words from a list they had seen 10 minutes ago.
The researchers found a relationship between the weight of a person’s left ventricle and lower cognition in midlife on most tests.
The conclusion held true even when other risks to heart health, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity, were taken into account.
Dr Rouch said: “Already in early adulthood, even before the onset of cardiovascular disease, there may be cardiac abnormalities that could be risk markers for lower thinking and memory skills in midlife.
“In the future, a single echocardiogram may help identify people at higher risk for cognitive decline.”
The lead author said further research should look at whether taking steps to improve heart structure and function could benefit brain health.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.