Could Cognitive Impairment be Heart Related?

grandparents smiling photoNew research may help us to understand the connection between heart health and brain health. In a study conducted at the University of Texas, they looked at 2,000 adults with plaque build-up in their arteries. While this plaque build-up was a precursor to obvious heart health issues, they were surprised to find that there is very good reason to think that it could also be connected to brain health issues later in life.

When MRIs were performed on those in the study, there was a significant amount of what is typically known as “bright white spots” or “flairs” as you may have heard them referred to in laymen terms. These spots define something called white matter hyper-intensity (WMH) volume and indicate changes within the brain’s white matter.

Increased WMH volume is normal in aging; however, excessive WMH volume is actually used as a marker for cognitive impairment. The study shows us that MRIs are an important part of keeping ahead of cognitive impairment issues, by knowing what a person’s typical WMH volume is. It also alerted us to the fact that MRIs could be utilized as a means for determining changes and the possibility of cognitive impairment not only AS it happens but perhaps even BEFORE it happens.

According to Oregon Health & Science University mild cognitive impairment is a precursor to dementia. Because of this recent connection between WMH volume and brain health, MRI scans could help determine the extent of impairment. Not all cognitive impairment becomes Alzheimer’s and many can live with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) with minimal effects to their everyday life tasks.

It took as long as 10+ years for those with mild cognitive impairment and high WMH volumes to see noticeable changes. This means that MRIs could be the answer to very early diagnosis of dementia based on previous WMH volumes and changes.

How Can You Deter Increased WMH Volume & Cognitive Impairment?

  • Balance & Fall Prevention – concussions, blows to the head, falls, and head injuries can all increase brain damage that shows up later in life in MRIs. Be proactive and use caution when playing sports that may involve head injuries, be certain that you don’t risk falling and take precautions to maintain balance and fall prevention as you age.
  • Good Heart Health – because of the correlation between heart health and brain health it is imperative to be heart healthy. Things that could increase your risk for a heart attack could also be associated with increasing your risk for cognitive impairment. Don’t smoke, eat healthy, control your weight, and stay active at any age.
  • Good Brain Health – your brain is a muscle, albeit a complicated one. Like any muscle lack of use can leave it unhealthy and susceptible to disease (including dementia). Train your brain daily by keeping mentally active with reading, puzzles, games, and social interaction. Stimulating conversation will require your brain to think, understand, and generate your thoughts into an intellectual conversation with others.

As with any research, there is always more to be determined. However, understanding that your brain is fed by the oxygen and blood that your heart pumps to it certainly seems like common sense that the two must be related.

If you’re body is challenging your physical abilities, don’t allow it to stop you from being “alive” and living life to the fullest. You can hire professional caregivers to help you physically, while you continue to stimulate your mental state. Even having consistent companionship can help keep your mind constantly active. What you need even when battling physical challenges, is to stimulate your brain so cognitive impairment doesn’t take over.



Photo by alex_ford