We tend to think of our hearts and brains as acting completely independent of one another. But the two may have more of a connection than previously thought, thanks to a recent study published in the online journal Neurology. According to the study, poor thinking skills in seniors may be linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
This new research suggests that older adults who score poorly in higher-level thinking skills, such as reasoning and problem solving, are significantly more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
What is especially enlightening about this study is that it indicates a close tie between heart and brain function, according to Dr. Behnam Sabayan, a post-doctoral research fellow at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
“This might reflect that damage to [blood] vessels is a global phenomenon in our body and when we see abnormalities in one organ, we should think about the other organs as well,” Sabayan said.
While this new information is eye-opening, it does not prove a cause and effect relationship between decreased thinking skills and heart attacks and strokes. Instead, it identifies an association between the two.
“I think other factors can also play roles,” Sabayan went on to explain. One suggestion he made for the association was that patients with poorer thinking skills may find it difficult to closely follow their doctor’s advice, thus allowing their health to deteriorate.
As we know, heart disease remains the #1 cause of death for Americans, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that strokes kill one American every 4 minutes. Most heart attacks and strokes are triggered by blood clots in our arteries, which cut off the blood supply to areas of the brain and heart.
For Sabayan’s study, he and his colleagues tested nearly 4,000 individuals with an average age of 75. These subjects did not have a history of heart attacks or strokes, but all had a history of heart disease or an increased risk due to factors like high blood pressure, smoking, or diabetes. None of the subjects involved suffered from dementia, a condition that includes memory loss among its symptoms.
The participants were tasked with completing four higher-level thinking skill tests that required executive function. These tests included reasoning and problem solving or planning. The participants were then placed into ranked groups based on their scores. Following the tests, the participants were tracked for an average of three years to determine their likelihood of heart attacks or strokes.