Medical Technology

Higher Resting Heart Rate Tied to a Higher Risk of Dementia

A higher resting heart rate (RHR) is linked to a higher risk of dementia and an acceleration of cognitive decline in older people, regardless of the presence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, new research suggests.

“RHR is easy to measure and could be used to identify people who may be at risk of dementia and cognitive decline for early interventions,” Yume Imahori, MD PhD, of the Aging Research Center at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, told Medscape Medical News.

“Healthcare professionals must be aware of potential cognitive implications that arise from an increase in RHR in older adults and may advise older people with high RHR to undergo an assessment of their cognitive function,” Imahori said.

The study was published online December 3 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

Heart-Brain Connection

These findings are based on 2147 adults (62 percent of which were women) who were aged 60 or over and were drawn from the population-based Swedish National Aging and Care in Kungsholmen study (SNAC-K). All of them were devoid of dementia at baseline and were followed regularly from 2001-2004 to 2013-2016.

At baseline, the average RHR was 65.7 bpm. Higher RHR groups had individuals who were less educated, older and more likely to smoke, more sedentary and also suffered from hypertension. At baseline, there were not distinctions in CVD prevalence between RHR groups.

In a median follow-up period of 11.4 years, 289 patients were diagnosed with dementia.

Fully adjusted models showed that participants with a RHR of 80 bpm had a 55% increased chance of developing dementia than those with lower RHRs of 60 to 69 (hazard ratio [HR1.05). 1.55, 95% CI 1.06 – 2.27).

“This connection was not due to cardiovascular diseases such as atrial fibrillation and heart failure, which is important since elevated RHR is frequently linked to heart disease” Imahori told Medscape Medical News.

In terms of cognitive function, Mini-Mental State Examination scores (MMSE), declined over time in all RHR groups. However, those who had RHR 70-79 or +80 bpm experienced a greater decline than those with lower RHRs , 60-69 bpm.

Imahori said that the results are in line with data from the US Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study which linked an elevated RHR of around 80+ bpm during midlife to dementia and cognitive decline in the latter years of life.

Public Health Implications

Claire Sexton, DPhil Alzheimer’s Association director of outreach and scientific programs, was available for comment. She explained that this study is part of an increasing body of research that suggests the health of the heart and brain are inextricably linked. However, this study only provides evidence of a link between the resting heart rate and cognitive function and not causation. More research is needed.

Medscape Medical News’ Sexton said that research has shown that obesity and diabetes, high blood pressure and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease can adversely affect your cognitive health.

She said that the Alzheimer’s Association believes that everyone should have a discussion about heart health with their physician.

“There are ways you can take today to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as regular exercise and healthy eating habits. Improved heart health is a crucial step in keeping your brain healthy as you age,” Sexton added.

SNAC-K is supported by the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and the county councils that participate as well as municipalities. It is also supported by additional grants from the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare. Imahori and Sexton have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Alz Dement. Published online December 3 2021. Full Text

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