As we age, so do our brains. However, not everyone’s brain ages at the same rate. Certain events and health conditions can also impact the way our brain ages.
According to a study published in the journal JAMA Neurology, a heart attack or stroke may put you at risk of accelerated cognitive decline in later years. This cognitive decline exceeds what is considered appropriate for the aging mind, the study notes.
The study analyzed research between 1971 and 2019 of more than 30,000 people and found that more than 1,000 patients who had a heart attack during the research experienced cognitive decline (not Alzheimer’s or dementia) at a small, but more accelerated, rate, than those who did not have a heart attack.
The highest annual rate of decline after a heart attack was seen in whites in comparison to Black individuals and in men compared with women. It could not be explained by stroke or new atrial fibrillation — an irregular, often rapid heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots in the heart, according to the study.
What’s causing this type of cognitive decline? Researchers point to four potential culprits:
- Depression after having a heart attack, which has been linked to dementia
- Chronic inflammation, blood pressure abnormalities and small blood vessel disease, which are also linked to dementia
- Congestive heart failure, which can cause severe hypotension or lower blood pressure and affect the brain.
- Medication, which may cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore affect cognitive function
While it is important to pay attention to any declines in your brain, many people often confuse age-related cognitive decline with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. But the two should not be confused, according to experts.
BlackDoctor.org spoke with Carl Horton, a cardiologist with Texas Health Cleburne and Texas Health Physicians Group to discuss how to spot the difference between age-related cognitive decline and dementia, the link between heart disease and brain health, and how to protect yourself.
What is the link between heart disease and brain health?
This has been noted in several studies in the past. I don’t think they know the exact mechanism of why there is accelerated decline after myocardial infarction but they do have a couple of possible ideologies.
Patients sometimes have major intracardiac production. They also deal with congestive heart failure and reduced cerebral perfusion.
Another mechanism is thought to be some patients who have underlying heart disease can develop Alzheimer’s.
Also, coronary artery disease or sclerosis can affect the arteries in the brain and if it affects those arteries, you also have