Fuzzy Thinking Could Suggest Heart Attack Is More Likely
Older people who suffer from fuzzy thinking and lack of self-control, but don’t have dementia, may be at a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke, according to a new study in The Netherlands.
People who scored badly on a test of decision making and problem-solving - so-called executive function skills - had nearly double the risk of heart attack and 50 percent higher risk of stroke compared to people who did better on the tests. Since lower scores on cognitive function tests might indicate previous vascular damage in the brain, the researchers expected a connection to stroke risk, but were surprised to see an increased risk for heart attack as well.
Researchers studied 3,926 older people in the Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland who had either a history of heart disease or an increased risk due to high blood pressure, diabetes, or smoking, but no history of a heart attack or stroke.
Next, the researchers tested the participants’ selective attention, decision processing speed, and immediate and delayed memory.
The researchers then divided participants equally into three groups based on their executive function skills test. Those who scored in the lowest third were 85 percent more likely to develop heart disease and 51 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who scored in the top third. Even when controlling for age, gender, education, body mass index, blood pressure, smoking history, and cholesterol, those who scored lower were at a higher risk.
These findings, published in Neurology, strengthen the known relationship between cardiovascular risk factors and cognition, and are the first to identify a specific brain process - executive function - as being predictive of heart disease.