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Heart Disease & Dementia

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Ruth Falcon Meyer has heart disease. The 71-year-old uses medication to manage her high blood pressure and irregular heart rate.

"I have it under control and I'm leading a normal life."

New research shows heart disease may also be putting her at risk for dementia. A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at nearly 6500 women over 65 and found postmenopausal women with heart disease or vascular disease were about 30 percent more likely to experience cognitive decline.

"Women who have history of having had a heart attack, their risk was doubled of having either mild cognitive impairment or dementia over time," says Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller.

Women who had bypass surgery were at greatest risk. Researchers don't know why heart disease may be linked to dementia in older women, but say it's possible plaque in the arteries may also suggest plaque in vessels feeding the brain.

The study also found having risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes increased risk for cognitive decline over time, even in women without heart disease.

"If you know that you are at risk, then you can do more to help protect yourself," says Dr. Erica Jones.

Ruth says she feels herself slowing down, but she's trying to stay active.

"I'm still working full time and I think that's a big help."

She hopes it will continue to keep her mind healthy.

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