and Medicine for Seniors
Cognitive Problems in Senior
Citizens Found as Risk for Stroke, Death
Declining memory and cognitive
ability may increase the risk of stroke, death in seniors over age 65
12, 2014 – Most senior citizens are well aware that poor cardiovascular
health, including a stroke, is an important risk factor for developing
cognitive impairment. New research, however, says the opposite is also
true for senior citizens age 65 and older: cognitive impairment is a
risk factor for having a stroke.
The new research published in the
American Heart Association journal Stroke says cognitive
abilities, such as memory and attention, are not only important after a
stroke but also before.
Previous studies have shown poor
cardiovascular health can increase the risk of
cognitive impairment such
as problems in memory and learning. However, the opposite idea that
cognitive impairment may impact cardiovascular health in older adults,
specifically stroke, had not been established before this study.
“Most clinical studies observe
cognitive impairment after a stroke event, said Kumar Rajan, Ph.D., lead
author of the study and assistant professor of internal medicine at Rush
University Medical Center in Chicago, IL.
“Only a handful of large
population-based studies measured long-term cognitive functioning before
stroke and deaths from all different causes.”
Researchers analyzed data on
cognitive function in 7,217 adults (61 percent African-American and 59
percent women) over the age of 65. They gave them four tests every three
years that evaluated participants’ cognitive abilities such as short-
and long-term memory, attention, awareness and other mental functions
before and after a stroke.
● Those with lower cognitive
test scores before a stroke had a 61 percent higher chance of a stroke.
● After stroke, cognitive
function declined almost twice as fast compared to those before stroke.
● Stroke coupled with cognitive
decline increased the risk of death.
● Declining cognitive function
before stroke increased the risk of stroke five-fold in
African-Americans compared to European-Americans.
“Stroke in old age can be caused by
poor cognitive function; whereas, faster decline in cognitive function
can be caused by stroke,” Rajan said. “Low cognitive function is
generally associated with poor neurological health and brain function.
Worsening of neurological health can lead to several health problems
with stroke being one of them.”
Examining mental health may help
prevent future strokes in older adults, Rajan said.
“From a care standpoint, cognitive
decline is not only a strong marker for neurological deterioration and
physical health in older adults, but also serves as a marker for stroke
in old age,” he said.
Researchers also found a strong
link between low cognitive function and death. Participants with
previous strokes had lower baseline cognitive scores on all four tests
and 78 percent died during follow-ups.
“Being healthy and active through
both physical and cognitive activities may help slow down cognitive
decline,” Rajan said.
In the United States, stroke is a
leading cause of disability and the No. 4 cause of death. A stroke
occurs when blood supply is cut off from parts of the brain. The brain’s
temporary blood loss can lead to serious physical and mental
Co-authors are Neelum T. Aggarwal,
M.D.; Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D.; Susan A. Everson-Rose, Ph.D., M.P.H.; and
Denis A. Evans, M.D.
The National Institutes on Aging,
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and
University of Minnesota funded the study.
Additional Resources from American
Poor cardiovascular health linked to
memory, learning deficits
Cognitive Challenges After Stroke
Protect Your Heart, Protect Your
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