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Dr. Keith Mankowitz, St. Luke's Hospital

Women with Heart Disease at Higher Risk for Dementia

Forgetfulness affects us at any age. When we're younger, it can be attributed to time management skills or not paying attention to details. As we age, it becomes less complicated. People just assume age and loss of memory is an inevitable fact. Some even make light of it. But, as we begin to understand the full complexities and impact of dementia and the stressors it can have on those affected, it becomes a very relevant and significant topic.

Dementia is actually a broad term used to describe a number of disorders that affect neurological function. It can have a debilitating affect on our memory, ability to communicate as well as everyday motor skills we use to function. As our population continues to live longer, those living with dementia is expected to grow at alarming rates. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people living with dementia worldwide is currently estimated at 35.6 million. The number is expected to double by 2030 and then triple by 2050.

A recent study presented in the Journal of the American Heart Association sheds light on the relationship dementia has with women with heart disease. In the study, approximately 6,000 women between the ages of 65 and 79 were analyzed. At the beginning of the study, each woman was asked if they had any heart issues and were subsequently given a test for brain function. None of the study participants had thinking or memory issues at the beginning of the study. Eight years later, the women who reported having heart disease at the onset of the study were 29 percent more likely to have some sort of dementia than those without heart disease. Those who reported having a heart attack, bypass surgery or peripheral vascular disease were at the greatest risk for dementia.

Many factors could be playing a role in cognitive decline in women with heart disease including issues with the circulatory system and inflammation that relate to the brain. Women who either have or are at-risk for heart disease should take notice because heart disease is preventable. Those who fall into this category should consult with their physician about steps to reduce their risk.

Dr. Keith Mankowitz is a cardiologist at the Heart Health Specialists at St. Luke's Hospital. For more information, call 314-43-HEART.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on February 6, 2014.