Memory loss in middle-age could be predicted through routine heart scans

Memory loss in middle-age could be predicted through routine heart scans taken in your early thirties, scientists say

  • Small changes in heart size could be linked with reduced memory later in life
  • People whose heart grows faster had worse thinking skills by middle age 
  • Scientists say finding could allow people at-risk could be identified much earlier 

Memory loss in middle-age could be predicted through routine heart scans taken in your early thirties, doctors believe. 

Scientists who tracked volunteers for 25 years discovered subtle heart changes were linked to declines in memory and thinking.

Experts at the University of California, San Francisco say the risk markers can appear even before tell-tale signs of heart disease strike.  

Lead researcher Dr Laure Rouch said: ‘Our findings are of critical importance in the context of identifying potential early markers in the heart of increased risk for later-life cognitive decline. 

‘Such abnormalities are common and often underdiagnosed as they do not produce any obvious symptoms.’

Dozens of studies have already found a clear link between high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes with cognitive impairment. 

But Dr Rouch and colleagues said much less is known about how the heart structure and function impacts brain health.  

Scientists at the University of California, who monitored 2,500 Americans from their 30s to middle age, found those whose hearts grew faster than average had worse memory later in life. The team said the finding could mean people at higher risk of cognitive problems later in life could be identified by a simple heart scan (an echocardiogram, pictured) in young adulthood

The experts tracked 2,653 people for 25 years. Volunteers were aged 30, on average, when they signed up to the study, published in the medical journal Neurology. 

Participants had echocardiograms, ultrasound images of the heart, at the start of the study, as well as 20 and 25 years later.

The team used the scans to examine their heart’s diastolic function — when it rests between beats and the chambers fill with blood.

Routine eye tests can flag up people at risk of suffering a heart attack in the next year, experts say 

A routine eye test at the opticians could be used to flag patients at risk of having a heart attack, a study suggests. 

Scientists have developed an AI programme that can analyse routine eye scans for early warning signs of a heart problem.

It works by looking at changes to tiny blood vessels at the back of the eye, which evidence suggests contains key information on heart health.

Problems with blood circulation can cause cells in the retina to become damaged and die, leaving behind a permanent mark.

University of Leeds researchers were able to accurately identify patients who had a heart attack within a year with up to 80 per cent accuracy. 

The study of 3,000 patients was published in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence.  

Cardiovascular disease is the second largest killer in the UK, causing 160,000 deaths each year – an average of 460 fatalities a day. In the US, heart disease kills 659,000 people each year. 

They measured the weight of the participants’ left ventricle — one of four chambers of the heart — as well as how much blood filled the chamber and how well the left ventricle pumped blood out of the heart. 

On average, the volunteers’ left ventricle weight increased by roughly 0.27g/m2 each year.

And their left atrial volume increased by 0.42ml/m2 annually. 

In the last year of the study, participants’ had their thinking and memory skills tested. Tasks included recalling words from a list 10 minutes after looking at it and drawing lines connecting alternating letters and numbers.

Results revealed the participants whose left ventricle increased in weight more than average were more likely to perform worse on the tests. 

This group scored an average of 22.7 out of a possible 30 marks on the brain tasks, compared to 24 among the others. 

And those whose left atrial volume increased more than average had lower global cognition — which includes attention, memory, verbal fluency and language — by midlife.

But no similar link was found when the experts compared the measurements of how well the left ventricle pumped blood out of the heart.

Dr Rouch said: ‘Our results were similar after adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity.

‘As early as young adulthood, even before the occurrence of cardiovascular disease, there may be heart abnormalities that could be risk markers for lower thinking and memory skills in middle age.

‘In the future, a single echocardiogram may help identify people at higher risk of cognitive impairment.’

The researchers didn’t examine whether the heart changes they detected directly caused brain decline. 

But larger left ventricle volume is a sign of vascular ageing, which is associated with cognitive impairment. 

And deformations in this exact chamber of the heart have previously been linked to dementia.