Ailing Heart Can Speed the Brain’s Decline, Study Finds

MONDAY, June 17, 2019 — The strong link between brain health and heart health is reinforced in a new study. The research showed that as cardiovascular health falters, so too does thinking and memory.

In one of the largest and longest studies of its kind to date, researchers studied a group of nearly 8,000 people in the United Kingdom. The participants were over 49 years of age and their health was tracked from 2002 to 2017.

Everyone in the study had relatively healthy hearts and brains at the beginning of the research. People with a history of stroke, heart attack, angina, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease were excluded.

But over 15 years of follow-up, nearly 6% of the participants did go on to suffer a heart attack or angina (chest pain), according to a team led by Wuxiang Xie, a research fellow at the Imperial College School of Public Health in London.

The researchers found that all of these participants also displayed a faster decline in their mental function, concurrent with the heart trouble.

Patients who suffered from angina had a significant decline in tests of “temporal orientation” — being able to accurately state the current date, day of week and time. Patients who had a heart attack showed a substantial decline in tests of verbal memory (assessed by a word-memory test) and language fluency. They also had the worse cognitive decline overall, the researchers found.

All of that is important, because “even small differences in cognitive function can result in an increased risk of dementia in the long-term,” Xie said in a news release from the American College of Cardiology.

“Because there is no current cure for dementia, early detection and intervention are essential to delay the progression to dementia,” Xie said. “Heart attack and angina patients need careful monitoring in the years following a diagnosis.”

The connection between declines in memory and thinking and heart disease may be as simple as the brain not getting the amount of oxygen that it used to, the researchers theorized. Tiny “microinfarcts” — heart-linked damage to small vessels in the brain — might hamper blood flow and oxygen supply.

Two U.S. experts who reviewed the findings agreed that the heart-brain connection is crucial to health.

“This study further emphasizes that approaching the body holistically is crucial for brain health and to prevent dementia,” said Dr. Gayatri Devi. She is a neurologist specializing in memory disorders at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“Brain health is dependent on heart health and health of the entire individual,” Devi added.

Dr. Guy Mintz directs cardiovascular health at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. He called the new study “a wake-up call for physicians to improve the risk factors associated with atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] early in life.”

Mintz pointed out that “patients can live with heart disease, but patients and their families suffer from decline in brain function. Watching someone become mentally lost in life is tragic and, in some cases associated with atherosclerosis, may be preventable.”

Devi stressed that keeping the brain sharp involves fitness of both mind and body.

“It is not enough to do Sudoku or crossword puzzles. It is just as important to take care of the body,” she said. “Proven ways to prevent brain disease, including Alzheimer’s dementia and stroke, are to take better care of one’s heart and body, by exercising, eating and sleeping well, and refraining from smoking.”

The new report was published June 17 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

More information

Harvard Medical School has more on heart disease and brain health.

© 2019 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Posted: June 2019

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New Theory Sheds Light on Leonardo da Vinci’s Artistic Decline

SATURDAY, May 4, 2019 — A fainting-related fall that caused nerve damage in his right hand could explain why Leonardo da Vinci’s painting skills declined later in life, a new paper suggests.

The report, published as the world marks the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death, contradicts the common belief that da Vinci’s difficulties stemmed from a stroke.

To arrive at that conclusion, the report authors compared a drawing of an elderly da Vinci with an engraving of the artist and inventor when he was younger. They also studied a biography of da Vinci.

The drawing shows da Vinci’s right arm in folds of clothing as if in a bandage, with his right hand suspended in a stiff, contracted position, according to the paper published May 3 in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

“Rather than depicting the typical clenched hand seen in post-stroke muscular spasticity, the picture suggests an alternative diagnosis such as ulnar palsy, commonly known as claw hand,” study co-author Dr. Davide Lazzeri said in a journal news release.

Lazzeri is a plastic surgeon at the Villa Salaria Clinic in Rome.

Based on the drawings, he said it’s likely that the ulnar palsy was caused by injury to the right limb when da Vinci fell after fainting. The ulnar nerve runs from the shoulder to little finger. It manages nearly all of the hand muscles used in fine movements.

Lazzeri noted that da Vinci’s hand impairment was not associated with mental decline or other impaired movement, suggesting a stroke was unlikely.

“This may explain why he left numerous paintings incomplete, including the Mona Lisa, during the last five years of his career as a painter while he continued teaching and drawing,” he said.

While the problem with his right hand affected da Vinci’s ability to hold palettes and brushes to paint, he was able to continue drawing with his left hand and teaching, Lazzeri explained.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on ulnar nerve dysfunction.

© 2019 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Posted: May 2019

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