We all know that diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease are dangerous. Diabetes can lead to nerve damage, eye damage, and kidney damage, while high blood pressure and heart disease can cause a heart attack, stroke, or aneurysm. You might not have known, however, that these ailments may cause you to lose your memory and thinking skills.
It’s true that men are more likely to have coronary artery disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. However, a recent Mayo Clinic study published in Neurology shows that women who have one or more of these conditions are more likely to lose important memory and thinking skills. In other words, having a cardiovascular condition may cause women to experience greater cognitive decline than men.
To test out the theory that cardiovascular conditions cause cognitive decline in women, a set of Mayo Clinic researchers pulled data from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging (MCSA). (The MCSA is an ongoing study that collects research which helps predict and prevent dementia). The researchers included 1,857 participants between 50 and 69 years of age. They were split about evenly between gender – 920 were men and 937 were women. None of them had dementia at the start of the study.
In addition, the researchers reviewed the participants’ medical records and made note of the health conditions they already had. Those conditions included coronary heart disease, arrhythmias, congestive heart failure, hypertension, and diabetes. Overall, about 70 percent of the participants had at least one of those health conditions. A greater proportion of men had a health condition than women.
Every 15 months for about three years, the researchers used nine tests to evaluate the participants’ memory, language, executive function (a skill that helps us plan, focus, and stay attentive), and spatial skills (your ability to understand and remember the location and dimension of objects or space).
The Decline of Memory and Thinking Skills in Women
Upon analyzing the data, the team found that women were more likely to suffer from cognitive decline than men if they had certain cardiovascular conditions. For instance, diabetes and high cholesterol were linked to a greater language decline in women.
Coronary artery disease was linked to a substantial yearly cognitive decline in women. In fact, this disease correlated with a loss of mental capabilities that was two times greater in women than in men.
So, what does this research mean for you? “While all men and women should be treated for cardiovascular conditions and risk factors in midlife, additional monitoring of women may be needed as a potential means of preventing cognitive decline,” Michelle Mielke, PhD, a Mayo Clinic epidemiologist and neuroscientist, and senior author of the study, said in a news release.
In other words, it’s important to keep watch of your memory and thinking skills if you have diabetes, high cholesterol, or another cardiovascular condition. Speak to your doctor if you believe you need a cognitive assessment so that you can get treated sooner rather than later.
You may also want to think about lifestyle changes that could improve your health conditions and reduce your risk of memory loss. Exercising more frequently and eating healthy foods is a great way to start. Completing a few mind puzzles each day can’t hurt either (crossword and sudoku, anyone?) With a little mindfulness, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier life and sharper thinking skills.