Better Cardiovascular Health Associated With Better Cognitive Functioning Interview with:
Hannah Gardener, ScD
Department of Neurology, Miller School of Medicine
University of Miami
Miami, FL What is the background for this study?

Response: At the beginning of the study, 1,033 participants in the Northern Manhattan Study (average age 72; 65 percent Hispanic, 19 percent black and 16 percent white), were categorized using the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple Seven®” definition of cardiovascular health, which includes tobacco avoidance, ideal levels of weight, physical activity, healthy diet, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose. The participants were tested for memory, thinking and brain processing speed. Brain processing speed measures how quickly a person is able to perform tasks that require focused attention. Approximately six years later, 722 participants repeated the cognitive testing, which allowed us to measure performance over time. The cardiovascular health factors, which have been shown to predict risk of stroke and myocardial infarction, were then examined in relation to cognitive performance and impairment over time. What are the main findings?

Response: In this racially diverse group of older adults we found that having more ideal cardiovascular health factors was associated with better brain processing speed at the study’s start and less decline in processing speed, memory and executive functioning approximately 6 years later. Executive function in the brain is associated with focusing, time management and other cognitive skills. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Previous studies have shown that achieving the health metrics of Life’s Simple 7® is associated with a reduced risk of strokes and heart attacks, even among the elderly. And the finding that they may also impact cognitive, or brain function underscores the importance of measuring, monitoring and controlling these seven factors by patients and physicians. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: While this study suggests achieving ideal cardiovascular health measures is beneficial to brain function, future studies are needed to determine the value of routinely assessing and treating risk factors, such as high blood pressure, in order to reduce brain function decline. In addition, similar studies in race and ethnically diverse populations, with different profiles of educational attainment, literacy and employment status, are needed to generalize the findings to other populations. Lastly, further study is needed to identify the age ranges, or periods over the life course, during which cardiovascular health factors and behaviors may be most influential in determining late-life cognitive impairment, and how behavioral and health modifications may influence cognitive performance and mitigate decline over time. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: This study was a joint collaboration of researchers at the University of Miami Medical School and Columbia University and was funded by the NINDS. Thank you for your contribution to the community.

Citation: AHA

J Am Heart Assoc. 2016;5:e002731, originally published March 16, 2016,doi:10.1161/JAHA.115.002731Ideal Cardiovascular Health and Cognitive Aging in the Northern Manhattan Study

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Dr. Hannah Gardener (2016). Better Cardiovascular Health Associated With Better Cognitive Functioning

Last Updated on March 18, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD