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Study links heart disease and mild cognitive impairment

January 31, 2013

Heart disease can seriously derail healthy aging, but a new study suggests seniors should take steps to prevent the condition for a new reason. Experts from the Mayo Clinic found that heart disease might raise the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and in turn, increase one's likelihood of developing dementia. 

The study, which recently appeared in JAMA Neurology, was based on an evaluation of more than 2,700 adults between 70 and 89. Researchers found that of the 669 participants who began the study with heart disease and no MCI, around 8.8 percent developed the condition. As for those subjects without heart disease, only 4.4 percent developed MCI. Experts hope the findings will offer another compelling reason to take steps to improve cardiovascular health.

"Prevention and management of cardiac disease and vascular risk factors are likely to reduce the risk [of MCI]," said Mayo Clinic researcher Rosebud Roberts.

Given previous research, the Mayo Clinic findings may not come as much of a surprise, as a heart-healthy lifestyle for seniors has often been tied to a lower risk of dementia and other cognitive problems. Specifically, scientists have found that any kind of exercise, whether it's aerobic activity or more focused on building muscle strength, can improve brain health and may actually increase the size of the hippocampus by as much as 2 percent, according to WebMD Health News. Additionally, heart-healthy foods such as spinach, blueberries and salmon have also shown promise in preventing Alzheimer's.

Maintaining cognitive function is a priority among the senior population, and MCI is often recognized as a precursor to Alzheimer's and dementia. A number of studies have suggested that between 10 and 20 percent of people 65 and older have some form of the condition.