Cropped shot of senior man holding his chest and feeling pain suffering from heart attack outdoor at the park

Heart problems – specifically atrial fibrillation and coronary heart disease – are tied to an increased risk of dementia, according to two new studies. Careful management of these problems may be important for brain health, the researchers suggest.

In a study that followed cognitive decline before and after CHD diagnosis, adults with coronary heart disease were found to be at higher risk for faster cognitive decline in the long-term. Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the study included data from 7,888 stroke-free participants aged 50 and older. Participants were tested for cognitive function over the 12 year period and during that time, 5.6 percent experienced a heart attack or angina. Those with CHD showed faster rates of cognitive decline in three tests of cognitive function.

“Early detection and intervention are essential to delay the progression to dementia. Heart attack and angina patients need careful monitoring in the years following a diagnosis,” said Wuxiang Xie, Ph.D., lead author.

Similarly, in a large study published in the European Heart Journal, Korean researchers showed that people with atrial fibrillation, even those who have not suffered a stroke, had a 50% higher risk of dementia compared with no AF diagnosis. AF also increased the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 30% and more than doubled the risk of vascular dementia. But AF patients who took oral anticoagulants to prevent blood clots had a significantly decreased risk of dementia, wrote lead author Boyoung Joung, M.D., Ph.D. More than half of AF patients are aged 80 or older, and incidence of the condition is expected to increase as the population grows, the authors noted.