New study suggests link between heart blood flow and temporal lobe regions of the brain

The study was undertaken to better understand whether brain blood flow can explain the link between heart function and cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The study consisted of 314 participants with an average age of 73. Thirty-nine percent had mild cognitive impairment, whilst the remaining participants had normal cognitive function.

Using echocardiography and MRI, the cardiac index and the blood flow in the brain were measured respectively. The magnitude of association between the lower cardiac index and the lower cerebral blood flow was estimated to correspond to 15 to 20 years of advancing age.

Commenting on the findings, Angela Jefferson, PhD, director of the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Centre said:

“This research is especially important because it may help us leverage our knowledge about managing heart health to address and treat risk factors for memory loss in older adults before cognitive symptoms develop. One way to put these results into a meaningful context is to define how one year of aging relates to blood flow in the brain. Then, we compare the effect of one year of aging to the effect of lower cardiac index. When we do that, we find that the effect of cardiac index on blood flow in the temporal lobes corresponds to 15 to 20 years of age.”

The results raise questions about whether autoregulation of blood flow in the brain becomes less effective as people get older, and whether vascular health plays a role in Alzheimer’s pathology or clinical symptoms of dementia.

Maria Carrillo, PhD, chief science officer at the Alzheimer’s Association, added:

“It is now clear from a growing body of research evidence that there is a strong connection between heart health and brain health. We are pleased to have provided the initial seed funding for this intriguing science that is beginning to identify and investigate the mechanisms behind that connection. Those mechanisms, once confirmed, may hold the key to effective treatments and prevention strategies for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”

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