Simple heart scan can predict if you’re at risk of dementia in the next 10 years, study finds

Simple heart scan can predict if you're at risk of dementia in the next 10 years, study finds

Simple heart scan in old age can predict whether you’re at risk of dementia in the next 10 years, study finds

  • 75-year-olds with atrial heart disease were 35% more likely to develop dementia
  • Atrial heart disease causes heart chamber problems that can be detected with scans
  • Researchers tracked dementia diagnoses in older adults in the United States from 2011 to 2019

Simple heart scans can predict your risk of being diagnosed with dementia within a decade, a study suggests.

The researchers found that older people with abnormalities in the left atrium were one-third more likely to develop the disease, even if they showed no signs of heart problems.

It suggests that scans normally only used for people with suspected heart disease or heart attack patients could help identify who is most at risk of dementia.

The left atrium helps pump oxygenated blood to vital organs, including the brain. If the chamber is defective, it can reduce blood flow to the brain, a risk of dementia.

Atrial heart disease is the term for a variety of conditions that can cause the left atrium to not work properly.

It can lead to stroke and irregular heartbeats, two complications that have also been linked to dementia.

But the study of more than 5,000 American adults in their 70s concluded that atrial heart disease was an “independent risk factor.”

The researchers, led by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said it could help inform “new intervention strategies.”

The researchers found that older people with abnormalities in the left atrium are 35% more likely to develop dementia. Show Graphics: The left atrium pumps newly oxygenated blood into the left ventricle, where the aorta takes it away from the heart and sends it to the brain via the carotid arteries.



Dementia is a general term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) that affect memory, thinking and behaviour.

There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Some people may have a combination of dementia types.

Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia is a global concern, but it is seen more often in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live to a very old age.


The Alzheimer’s Society reports that there are more than 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. It is expected to increase to 1.6 million by 2040.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting 50 to 75 percent of people diagnosed.

In the US, there are an estimated 5.5 million people with Alzheimer’s. A similar percentage increase is expected in the coming years.

As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of developing dementia.

Diagnosis rates are improving, but it is believed that many people with dementia are still undiagnosed.


There is currently no cure for dementia.

But new drugs can slow its progression and the earlier it is detected, the more effective the treatments are.

Source: Alzheimer’s Society

Around 900,000 people are thought to be living with dementia in the UK, with rates expected to rise as the population ages.

The number is nearly seven times higher in the United States, with 6.2 million affected by the memory-stealing condition.

There is no cure for the disease, meaning doctors can only prescribe drugs that reduce its symptoms.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, looked at 5,078 adults who did not have dementia from North Carolina, Maryland and Mississippi.

They had an average age of 75 at the start of the study.

Participants’ hearts were scanned between 2011 and 2013 using transthoracic echocardiograms, an ultrasound of the heart.

The scans are usually given to people who have had a heart attack or to diagnose heart valve problems or congenital heart disease.

Participants returned for second tests between 2016 and 2017 and third tests between 2018 and 2019 to measure their brain performance and look for dementia, as well as recheck their hearts.

Doctors assessed their memory, reaction times, language and problem-solving skills using a combination of cognitive tests in person and over the phone, as well as interviewing patients’ loved ones in some cases.

Doctors used the scores to diagnose them with dementia according to official criteria.

In total, 763 people had the brain disorder in 2019, with people with atrial heart disease at a 35% higher risk.

The risk remained even after taking into account other lifestyle factors such as smoking and high blood pressure.

Writing in the paper, the researchers said: “We found that the presence of atrial heart disease was significantly associated with an increased risk of dementia.

‘We found that both [atrial fibrillation] and stroke mediated part of the effect between atrial heart disease and dementia, but that the relative contributions were [less than] 10 percent

‘These findings reveal that a state of atrial heart disease, which precedes [atrial fibrillation] and stroke, contributes to the risk of dementia, regardless of [atrial fibrillation] and a stroke

“We cautiously suggest that understanding this relationship could provide a basis for new intervention strategies to help thwart the development of dementia.”

Atrial heart disease is a term used to describe a number of disorders that affect the ability of the atria to pump blood through the heart.


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