Researchers say cognitive decline may increase the risk of stroke for adults over the age of 65.
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the US, killing almost 130,000 Americans every year. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease are just some of the well-established risk factors for stroke, but could cognitive decline now be added to the list?
Lead study author Kumar Rajan, PhD, assistant professor of internal medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, says the majority of clinical studies look at cognitive impairment among older adults after stroke has occurred.
"Only a handful of large population-based studies measured long-term cognitive functioning before stroke and deaths from all different causes," he adds.
With this in mind, Rajan and his team conducted a study in order to see whether cognitive functioning influences the risk of stroke, rather than the other way around.
Cognitive decline 'a marker for stroke in old age'
The researchers analyzed data looking at the cognitive functioning of 7,217 adults aged 65 and over.
Participants were monitored for stroke occurrence, and every 3 years, they were required to complete four tests that measured certain cognitive functions, including short- and long-term memory, awareness and attention.
The researchers found that participants who had lower scores on their cognitive tests prior to having a stroke had a 61% higher risk of stroke, compared with those who had higher cognitive test scores before a stroke.
They also found that after a stroke, cognitive functioning among participants declined nearly twice as fast as it did before a stroke.
In addition, participants who had a stroke and experienced cognitive decline were found to be at increased risk of death. Of those who had strokes prior to the study and had low baseline cognitive test scores, 78% died during follow-up.
The team's findings, Rajan says, indicate that stroke in older adults can be caused by poor cognitive function, but that stroke can speed up cognitive decline. He adds:
"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.
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 adds that being healthy and active, both physically and mentally, can help to slow cognitive decline.
Medical News Today have reported on a number of studies suggesting ways to slow or prevent cognitive problems. Earlier this year, a study by researchers from Loma Linda University in California claimed laughter may help prevent age-related memory loss, while other research suggested caffeine may boost long-term memory.