New Study Shows Cardiovascular Risks May be Worse for Women’s Cognition in Middle Age


According to a recent study by the American Academy of Neurology, even though men may be more likely to have cardiovascular conditions like heart disease and stroke and risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking in middle age than women, the negative impact of most of these conditions on thinking and memory skills is stronger for women. The study published in the January 5, 2022, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology has shown that the midlife cardiovascular conditions and risk factors were associated with midlife cognitive decline and the association is stronger among women.

Study author Michelle M. Mielke, PhD, Mayo Clinic in Rochester and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a statement, “Specifically, we found that certain cardiovascular conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and dyslipidemia, which is abnormally high levels of fats in the blood, had stronger associations with cognitive decline in women compared to men.”

For their study, researchers looked at 1,857 people without dementia who were between the ages of 50 and 69. The subjects were given a clinical evaluation every 15 months for an average of three years. The evaluation included nine tests of memory, language, executive function and spatial skills, which was combined to calculate a composite cognitive score of each subject. In total 1,465, or 79%, of the subjects had at least one cardiovascular condition or risk factor. The study also showed that it was more men than women who had at least one risk factor: 83% for men compared to 75% for women.

The study revealed that most cardiovascular conditions were more strongly associated with cognitive function among women. Heart disease was associated with more than a two times greater decline in composite cognitive test scores for women as compared to men.

However, it should be noted that the study did not include a wide variety of subjects. Mielke also mentioned that more research is needed to examine sex differences in the relationships between the cardiovascular risk factors and specific biomarkers of brain disease.

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