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Scientists have found a link between early-onset coronary heart disease and dementia risk. Susana Ramírez/Stocksy
  • To investigate the potential connection between the age at which coronary heart disease is initially diagnosed and the development of dementia, researchers examined health data from the UK Biobank.
  • The new research suggests that individuals who are diagnosed with coronary heart disease as adults, especially when diagnosed before the age of 45, might face a heightened likelihood of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia as they grow older.
  • The findings underscore the need to consider heart health as a potential factor in cognitive well-being.

Dementia is a major health condition affecting older adults, leading to dependence and reduced functioning.

A recent report from the World Health Organization revealed that in 2019, there were 55.2 million people worldwide living with dementia, and this number is expected to rise to 78 million by 2030.

This increase is due to factors like longer life expectancy and more dementia risk factors, which have caused a significant increase in dementia-related deaths, reaching 1.6 million in 2019 and making dementia the seventh leading cause of death.

Unfortunately, treatment options remain limited. Therefore, it’s crucial for healthcare professionals to focus on early detection and intervention in dementia risk factors.

This can help slow down cognitive decline and, ideally, delay or prevent the onset of dementia.

A new study examined the link between coronary heart disease and dementia. It is thought to be the first extensive examination of whether the age at which coronary heart disease is diagnosed could influence the likelihood of developing dementia in the future.

The study recorded a substantial number of dementia cases, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia throughout the study period.

Notably, individuals with coronary heart disease (CHD) were found to face higher risks of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia compared to those without this heart condition.

Even after considering factors like age and lifestyle, individuals with coronary heart disease had a 36% increased risk of dementia, a 13% higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a significant 78% greater risk of vascular dementia.

The researchers highlighted that the age at which CHD is diagnosed also matters.

Those with an earlier onset of CHD had a 25% higher risk of dementia, a 29% higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a 22% higher risk of vascular dementia.

The risk of dementia increased as the age of CHD diagnosis decreased, meaning that younger individuals diagnosed with CHD were at greater risk.

In fact, those diagnosed before the age of 45 had a significantly higher risk of developing dementia compared to their peers without CHD.

Fanfan Zheng, Ph.D., senior study author and researcher at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, highlighted the key findings to Medical News Today, saying, “individuals diagnosed with CHD at a younger age may have a higher risk of developing dementia in later life.”

“For individuals diagnosed with CHD at young age, additional attention should be paid to careful monitor of neurocognitive status so that timely intervention, such as cognitive training, could be implemented once signs of cognitive deteriorations were detected.”
— Dr. Fanfan Zheng

These findings underscore the importance of considering the age of heart disease diagnosis when evaluating the dementia risk in adults, especially for healthcare professionals working with patients.

The researchers noted that there was a clear and consistent correlation observed between the age at which heart disease began and the likelihood of developing dementia.

This finding underscores the significant negative impact that early-onset coronary heart disease can have on brain health.

As the population continues to age and more people are diagnosed with heart disease at a younger age, it is anticipated that there will be a substantial increase in the number of individuals living with dementia in the future.

Healthcare professionals should pay particular attention to individuals diagnosed with heart disease at a young age, as they may be at heightened risk for dementia.

The next research avenue involves investigating whether early-life interventions to modify cardiovascular risk factors can potentially enhance brain health in later life.

However, it’s important to note some limitations of the study. Firstly, it was an observational study, which means that the findings cannot establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

Secondly, over 94% of the study’s participants from the UK Biobank identified as white, potentially limiting the generalisability of the findings to individuals of other racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Dr. Frederick James Meine III, interventional Cardiologist at Novant Health in Wilmington, North Carolina, not involved in this research, also spoke to MNT, saying “this paper shows a strong correlation between coronary disease and dementia, particularly vascular dementia.”

“When adjusted for baseline patient characteristics, most of the association appears to be driven by the correlation between vascular dementia and coronary artery disease,” Dr. Meine explained.

“This is not at all surprising given that coronary disease and cerebrovascular disease are similar processes and are driven by the same risk factors, i.e. hypertension, hyperlipidemia, tobacco abuse, etc. What the paper shows is that earlier onset CAD is associated with dementia as well.”

“There does appear to be a slight correlation to Alzheimer’s dementia as well, but this is less well correlated, and in addition because the diagnoses of dementia are taken from databases, there is no way to ascertain the accuracy of the cause of the dementia.”
— Dr. Frederick James Meine III

Dr. Meine concluded that “overall, though, this tells us that we need to continue to be very clear to our patients —especially our young patients— how important it is to manage their overall health and cardiovascular/cerebrovascular risk factors.”

“In short, it is never too early to start managing your cardiac or cerebrovascular health!” he added.