Poor Thinking Skills Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke, Study

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low executive functionAccording to a new study published in the journal Neurology, people with poor thinking skills could be at a greater risk of developing heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers analyzed data from 3,926 people with an average age of 75 who had no history of dementia, heart attacks or strokes. Participants did, however, have histories of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or tobacco use.

Each participant took part in four tests that assessed their executive functions and thinking skills. Executive functions are how your brain organizes and acts on information.

Participants were then placed in one of three groups, depending on their test scores (low, medium or high) and were monitored for frequency of stroke and heart attack occurrences over the following three years.

There were 375 heart attacks and 155 strokes incidents—equivalent to 31 heart attacks and 12 strokes per 1,000 people per year. Researchers also discovered that individuals who scored low on the executive function tests had an 85% greater risk of heart attacks and a 51% greater risk of having a stroke compared to subjects with high executive scores.

Furthermore, of the 1,309 participants with low executive function scores, 176 had a heart attack over the three-year span, compared to 93 out of 1,308 individuals with high scores on their tests. This works out to a rate of 44 heart attacks per 1,000 people per year for those with low executive function scores and 22 heart attacks per 1,000 people per year for those with high executive function scores.

Researchers did point out that despite their findings being statistically significant, the risks for heart attacks and strokes for people with low executive function were relatively low.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Sabayan B., et al., “Executive function, but not memory, associates with incident coronary heart disease and stroke,” Neurology, published online August 5, 2015.  http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2015/08/05/WNL.0000000000001895.
Whiteman, H., “Poor thinking skills linked to greater risk of heart attack, stroke,” Medical News Today web site, August 6, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/297778.php.