Study Suggests Dementia is More Likely in People with Heart Disease Risks


Researchers find that the risk of developing dementia increased by 35% in patients with atrial cardiopathy.

New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that the risk of developing dementia increased by 35% in patients with atrial cardiopathy. This finding was independent of the conditions of stroke and atrial fibrillation.

The heart has 4 chambers and the left atrium is the chamber responsible for pumping blood from the lungs to the left ventricle, which then pumps blood to the rest of the body. Atrial cardiopathy is the result of an abnormal structure or functioning of the left atrium, and it can predict the risk of a cardiac episode.

Atrial cardiopathy can increase the risk of stroke or atrial fibrillation, which can subsequently increase the risk of dementia. Michelle C. Johansen, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, led a team of researchers to determine whether there is a risk between atrial cardiopathy and dementia independent of stroke and atrial fibrillation.

Participants were taken from the 1987 Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, an ongoing analysis of heart health of 4 diverse rural and urban US communities. The study included 15,000 participants aged 45-65 years who attended clinical visits every 3 years. The researchers gathered data from these visits to create guidelines on conditions such as stroke and cognitive decline.

ARIC participants went to their fifth clinical visit between 2011 and 2013, and this current analysis used data from this visit as a baseline. The researchers then followed the participants’ sixth (2016-2017) and seventh visit (2018-2019).

Whereas ARIC included more than 15,000 participants, the current study evaluated 5078 returning participants, now averaging 75 years of age. Among participants, 59% were female, 41% male, and 21% were Black.Current participants were evaluated for dementia, indicated though cognitive decline.

Using a comprehensive neuropsychological test battery from the Uniform Data Set of the Alzheimer’s Disease Centers program of the National Institute on Aging, researchers processed participants’ cognitive speed, episodic memory, language, attention, and executive function.

The authors also allocated screening test questions to family or friends of the participant (also called informant interviews). And lastly, they collected cardiac evaluation measurements (echocardiography and electrocardiography [EKG/ECG] and bloodwork) to assess the health of the left atrium.

A computer algorithm took these data to diagnose patients with dementia, but an expert qualified the disease using criteria outlined by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institutes of Health.

Among participants, 763 developed dementia and 1709 were diagnosed with atrial cardiopathy. The patients with atrial cardiopathy were 35% more likely to develop dementia. Some participants who had atrial cardiopathy subsequently suffered from atrial fibrillation and stroke; however, researchers determined that dementia was not caused by atrial fibrillation or stroke alone.

Investigators were limited to the population of only 4 geographical locations, as well as possible silent stroke and asymptomatic atrial fibrillation. Additionally, they could have missed patients with mild dementia symptoms.


Dementia risk may be higher if an upper heart chamber is abnormal. EurekAlert! Aug 10, 2022. Accessed on Aug 10, 2022.

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