AVanderbilt study, published in Circulation, associates heart function with the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Participants with decreased heart function, measured by cardiac index, were two to three times more likely to develop significant memory loss over the follow-up period.
“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 and Alzheimer’s Center, and principal investigator of the study.
“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.”
The research used data from the Framingham Heart Study, an effort that began in 1948 to identify risk factors for heart disease. In the study 1,039 participants from Framingham’s Offspring Cohort were followed for up to 11 years to compare cardiac index to the development of dementia.
Over the study period, 32 participants developed dementia, including 26 cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Compared to normal cardiac index, individuals with clinically low cardiac index had a higher relative risk of dementia.
Jefferson said the research community has long associated heart health with brain health, but cardiac index has not been previously recognized as a risk factor for significant memory loss or dementia.
Jefferson emphasizes that this research points only to a risk factor.
The National Institute on Aging, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the Alzheimer’s Association funded the research.