Women with a history of heart problems may have a heightened risk of developing dementia, according to a new study from researchers at the Comprehensive Heart Failure Center at the University of Würzburg in Germany.

For the study, researchers used data from a long-term study of more than 6,000 women ages 65 to 79.  The women were evaluated for heart problems and given a test of brain function at the onset and then again yearly over the course of eight years.  At the beginning of the study, 900 women reported having heart disease and none of the women had any significant problems on the tests that looked at thinking and memory skills.  

After eight years, more than 400 women showed signs of cognitive decline or dementia. The women who reported issues with their heart were almost 30 percent more likely to have cognitive problems than those without heart disease.  The women at the highest risk were those who had had a heart attack or a history of bypass surgery or peripheral vascular disease.  

The big news behind this story is that while dementia is irreversible, heart disease is not.  So if researchers can identify early triggers for mental decline, and prevent them, it may help to stop the onset of Alzheimer's in its tracks.

"Given that the number of individuals suffering from dementia is increasing in all developed countries, it is important and necessary to first investigate the reasons of why this is happening and to identify those particularly at risk and second to find measures on how to prevent and treat affected individuals," said Dr. Bernhard Haring, a lead author of the study.

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