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Heart health index may predict risk of cognitive functions

The healthier our heart is, the lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests.

Scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Center conducted a study to discern the association between heart function and the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study concluded that participants with decreased heart function as measured by cardiac index were between two and three times more likely to develop significant memory loss over the follow-up period.

The study was published in Circulation.

“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,” she added.

Research for the data came from the Framingham Heart Study, a project that started in 1948 to identify risk factors for heart disease. As many as 1,039 participants in the study for followed for up to 11 years, comparing the cardiac index to the development of dementia.

“Cardiac index is a measure of heart health. It reflects cardiac output or the amount of blood that leaves the heart and is pumped through the body taking into consideration a person’s body size. A low cardiac index value means there is less blood leaving the heart,” Jefferson said.

During the study, 32 participants developed dementia, including 26 cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals who had a low cardiac index displayed a relatively high risk of dementia.

Scientific community has long maintained the existence of a relationship between heart health and brain health, but it was not until this study that cardiac index was used to measure the risk of developing a significant loss of memory or cognitive function.

“At present, there is no proven method for preventing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But leading a heart healthy lifestyle could help. When 30 percent of the population is exposed to a potential risk factor, like low cardiac index, that suggests it may be of significant public health concern,” concluded Jefferson.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute on Aging, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the Alzheimer’s Association.

Heart health index may predict risk of cognitive functions

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