The connection between brain function, risk of heart attacks and strokes

The link between the loss of brain function and future heart attack and stroke risk is no secret to doctors.

A new study is now looking at the loss of a specific type of thinking-skill and how it's related to heart attack and stroke risk.

Dr. Irene Katzan was not involved in the study but is a stroke expert at Cleveland Clinic.

"People who have loss of their ability to make decisions and to process things in a thoughtful way," Katzan said. "That loss of executive function, does and is associated with, a higher risk of having a future stroke or heart attack."

The study involved almost four thousand people with an average age of 75 and no history of stroke, heart attacks or dementia.

Participants were given tests to evaluate high-level thinking skills and followed for about three years.

Results show people in the group with the lowest thinking scores were 85-percent more likely to have a heart attack than those with high scores.

People with low scores also had a 51-percent higher risk of stroke.

Katzan says one of the reasons people experience cognitive problems is vascular disease, like hardening of the arteries in the brain.

So, the best way to prevent thinking problems and future heart attack and stroke is to control vascular risk factors. 

"Things like high blood pressure, glucose or sugars in people who have diabetes, high cholesterol, avoiding smoking," Katzan said. "All of those things are very important."