Heart attacks linked to faster mental decline over years: Study
For those who had a heart attack versus those who did not, there is a significantly faster mental decline over the years after the heart attack, found a new study.
In a combined analysis of six different large studies of adults between 1971 and 2019, the research from Johns Hopkins Medicine, US, determined whether people who have had heart attacks showed cognitive changes, compared with people similar to them in all respects except they had not had a heart attack.
Michelle Johansen, an associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said that due to the fact that many people are at risk for having a heart attack, we hope that the results of our study will serve as a “wake-up call” for people to control vascular risk factors like high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol as soon as they can.
They have shown through their research that having a heart attack increases one’s risk of decreased cognition and memory later on in life.
The study findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Neurology.
A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is a medical emergency in which the blood supply to the heart is suddenly and severely reduced or cut off, causing the muscle to die from a lack of oxygen.
For those who suffered a heart attack, while the researchers did not find significant cognitive decline immediately after their first heart attack, the participants’ cognitive tests showed a decline over the years following the event.
The study sample comprising 30,465 people had not experienced a heart attack or stroke and did not have dementia at the time of the first cognitive assessment. Of these, 1,033 individuals went on to have at least one heart attack, and out of that, 137 had two heart attacks.
Of the overall sample, 29 per cent were Black, 8 per cent Hispanic and 56 per cent women. Individuals who experienced heart attacks were more likely to be older and male.
The researchers scored various aspects of participants’ cognition across several different cognitive tests, which were then combined to represent one cognitive domain. A decrease in points indicated a decline in that cognitive domain.
The various aspects of participants’ cognition measured were their global or overall cognition over time, including their memory and executive functioning, which is the ability to make complex cognitive decisions.
Johansen said that the next steps were to look at other aspects of heart health and how they might affect brain health.
“We have shown that preventing heart attacks may be one strategy to preserve brain health in older adults,” said Johansen. “Now we need to determine what specifically is causing the cognitive decline over time.”