The study used the population-based Mayo Clinic Study of Aging and included 1,857 participants without dementia who were 50 to 69 at their initial visit.
Of the participants, 920 were men and 937 were women. Every 15 months for an average of three years, study participants’ global cognition was evaluated with nine tests of memory, language, executive function, and spatial skills.
Cardiovascular condition and risk factor information were obtained using the population-based Rochester Epidemiology Project.
Conditions included coronary artery disease, heart rhythm disorders, congestive heart failure, peripheral artery disease, and stroke. Risk factors included high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, and obesity.
About 79% of the participants, or 1,465, had at least one cardiovascular risk factor or condition 83% of men, compared to 75% of women.
The study found most cardiovascular conditions were more strongly associated with cognitive function among women.
In addition, diabetes, high cholesterol, and coronary artery disease were associated with greater language decline in women. However, congestive heart failure was associated with greater language decline in men.
It is important to understand sex differences in the development of cognitive impairment to enhance the health of women and men. Middle-aged adults, especially women with a history of heart disease, may represent critical subgroups for early monitoring.
Additional research is needed across the life span to examine potential mechanisms explaining sex differences in the relationship between cardiovascular factors and cognition, such as hormones, genetics, lifestyle, and psychosocial factors.