Memory, Learning Problems More Likely Among Older
People with Poor Cardiovascular Health
People with the lowest cardiovascular health scores
were more likely to have impairment on learning, memory and verbal
11, 2014 A large study of older adults has concluded that developing
cognitive impairment, especially memory and learning problems, is much
greater for people with poor cardiovascular health. The best
cardiovascular health was more common in men, the higher educated, and
those with the highest incomes.
The risk of developing cognitive impairment,
especially learning and memory problems is significantly greater for
people with poor cardiovascular health than people with intermediate or
ideal cardiovascular health, according to the study in the Journal of
the American Heart Association.
Cardiovascular health plays a critical role in
with several cardiovascular risk factors also playing a role in higher
risk for cognitive decline.
Researchers found that people with the lowest
cardiovascular health scores were more likely to have impairment on
learning, memory and verbal fluency tests than their counterparts with
intermediate or better risk profiles.
The study involved 17,761 people aged 45 and older
at the outset who had normal cognitive function and no history of
stroke. Mental function was evaluated four years later.
Researchers used data from the Reasons for
Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study to determine
cardiovascular health status based on The American Heart Association Life's
Simple 7 score.
The REGARDS study population is 55 percent women,
42 percent blacks, 58 percent whites and 56 percent are residents of the
stroke belt states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana,
Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The Lifes Simple 7 initiative is a new system to
measure the benefits of modifiable health behaviors and risk factors in
cardiovascular health, such as smoking, diet, physical activity, body
mass index, blood pressure, total cholesterol, and fasting glucose. It
classifies each of the seven factors of heart health as either poor,
intermediate or ideal.
After accounting for differences in age, sex, race
and education, researchers identified cognitive impairment in:
4.6 percent of people with the worst
cardiovascular health scores;
2.7 percent of those with intermediate health
2.6 percent of those in the best cardiovascular
Even when ideal cardiovascular health is not
achieved intermediate levels of cardiovascular health are preferable to
low levels for better cognitive function, said lead investigator Evan
L. Thacker, Ph.D., an assistant professor and chronic disease
epidemiologist at Brigham Young University Department of Health Science,
in Provo, Utah.
This is an encouraging message because
intermediate cardiovascular health is a more realistic target for many
individuals than ideal cardiovascular health.
The differences were seen regardless of race,
gender, pre-existing cardiovascular conditions, or geographic region,
although higher cardiovascular health scores were more common in men,
people with higher education, higher income, and among people without
any cardiovascular disease.
Cognitive function assessments involved tests to
measure verbal learning, memory and fluency. Verbal learning was
determined using a three-trial, ten-item word list, while verbal memory
was assessed by free recall of the ten-item list after a brief delay
filled with non-cognitive questions. Verbal fluency was determined by
asking each participant to name as many animals as possible in 60
Although mechanisms that might explain the findings
remain unclear, Thacker said that undetected subclinical strokes could
not be ruled out.
Co-authors are Sarah R. Gillett, Ph.D.; Virginia G.
Wadley, Ph.D.; Frederick W. Unverzagt, Ph.D.; Suzanne E. Judd, Ph.D.;
Leslie A. McClure, Ph.D.; Virginia J. Howard, Ph.D.; and Mary Cushman,
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders
and Stroke helped support the study.
Additional Resources from American Heart