Heart attack patients have 35% greater risk of getting dementia

14 November 2017

Heart attack patients could be at a greater risk of developing dementia, says a new study, according to which a heart attack increases the risk of vascular dementia by 35 per cent. The risk persists till up to 35 years after the heart attack.

The study also notes that heart attack had no association with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, but only an increased risk of vascular dementia.

For the study, published in the journal Circulation, the team looked at the number of dementia diagnosis among 200,000 people who were able to survive the first year after a heart attack during the period 1980-2012. They were examined for every conceivable dementia diagnoses in the Danish National Patient Register and the Danish Psychiatric Central Research Register.

The researchers compared the survivors with the control group consisting of one million people from the background population.

The researchers called for immediate preventive measures and medications for the patients to keep the risk of dementia at bay. For the majority of dementia patients, there is no good treatment once it has set in, therefore it becomes all the more important to prevent the condition.

After suffering their heart attack, the patients have been followed over a period of up to 35 years, and according to researcher Jens Sundbøll, the risk of vascular dementia does not level out over time. The increased risk remains continuously increased at 35 per cent - also 35 years after the heart attack.

Sundbøll said that a 35 per cent increased risk is in itself an argument for examining the possibilities for preventive measures such as relevant medications and healthier lifestyle. The importance of prevention is underscored by the fact that, for the majority of dementia diseases, there is no good treatment once the dementia has set in.

Sundbøll also pointed to the forthcoming worldwide demographic shift towards an older population as an argument for more targeted efforts to prevent vascular dementia.

A four-fold increased risk was observed if the patient underwent bypass surgery following the heart attack. On the other hand, patients who undergo the smaller procedure of a balloon angioplasty do not have an increased risk of vascular dementia. According to Jens Sundbøll, it is not necessarily the bypass procedure itself that causes the risk of vascular dementia to explode.

"There is also the possibility that patients who are offered bypass surgery already have more serious circulatory and atherosclerotic problems and hence an increased risk of vascular dementia than patients who are referred to a balloon angioplasty. A registry study is limited by the fact that it does not tell us anything about the cause of the observed association. This has to be clarified in other studies," noted Sundbøll.

Some heart-friendly foods recommended by experts are oats, nuts, legumes, berries, and flaxseeds – the same kinds of foods recommended for diabetics as well.

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