Although middle-aged men are more likely to have cardiovascular conditions, such as heart disease and stroke, as well as risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking than middle-aged women, the negative impact of most of these conditions on women’s’ memory and thinking skills is higher, new study results show.
“Our results show that midlife cardiovascular conditions and risk factors were associated with midlife cognitive decline, but the association is stronger for women,” Michelle Mielke, PhD, the study author from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), 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.”
The study included 1857 individuals, without dementia, who were between aged 50 and 69 years at the beginning of the study.
The individuals were given a clinical evaluation every 15 months for an average of 3 years. The evaluation included 9 tests in executive function, language, memory, and spatial skills combined to calculate a composite cognitive score.
About 79%, or 1465 of the individuals had at least 1 cardiovascular condition or risk factor, with about 83% of men compared with about 75% of women.
Investigators found that most cardiovascular conditions were more strongly associated with cognitive functions among women. Heart disease was associated with more than a 2-fold greater decline in composite cognitive test scores for women compared with men.
Additionally, the investigators found that abnormally high levels of fat in the body, diabetes, and heart disease were associated with language score declines only in women.
However, investigators also found that congestive heart failure was associated with language score declines only in men.
“More research is needed to examine sex differences in the relationships between the cardiovascular risk factors and specific biomarkers of brain disease like white matter hyperintensities, areas of dead tissue, and overall white matter integrity in midlife,” Mielke said. “That may help us better understand the sex-specific mechanisms, by which the cardiovascular conditions and risk factors contribute to cognitive impairment in both women and men.”.
One of the study’s limitations included that participants were all from 1 county in Minnesota, so the results may not be generalized to other populations
The study also does not prove that women who have cardiovascular risk factors will have cognitive decline in midlife, but there was an association shown.
The study was supported by the GHR Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Rochester Epidemiology Project.
The research was published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the AAN.