Heart Function as a Risk for Unhealthy Brain Aging

in Uncategorized
September 18th, 2009

Though much research in the field of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) emphasizes new, cutting-edge treatment efforts, another important research area is focused on disease prevention. Prevention first involves identifying risk factors for AD and then managing these risk factors to keep AD from developing among future older adults.

To date, many research studies have found that certain types of heart disease, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, may increase one’s risk for developing AD. One exciting new aspect of research being conducted at the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center (BU ADC) is the examination of heart function as a possible risk factor for AD. The goal of this new study is to determine if minor abnormalities in heart function are related to an increased risk for developing AD among individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).


White matter hyperintensities are an MRI sign of vascular changes in the brain.

Individuals with MCI experience mild impairments in memory and other cognitive or thinking abilities that are not normal for one’s age. Some research has suggested that individuals with MCI are at greater risk for developing AD than individuals without memory or thinking difficulties. However, individuals with MCI continue to live independently in the community and manage their day-to-day affairs without difficulty. Research focused on individuals with MCI may provide important information about risk factors for AD.

The Heart & Brain Aging study, conducted by Dr. Angela Jefferson, a BU ADC neuropsychologist, is investigating the association between heart function and brain aging in individuals with MCI. Funded by the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institute on Aging, the research project includes a study visit at the Boston University Medical Campus in the South End of Boston. During the visit, participants provide a blood sample, participate in a medical history interview, and complete paper-and-pencil tests of memory and thinking abilities. Finally, participants undergo heart and brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Dr. Jefferson and her collaborators plan to combine information from the multiple tests to better understand whether heart function plays a role in the development and progression of early symptoms of AD.


MRI image of the heart.

All participants in the Heart & Brain Aging study receive a copy of their blood test results, including information on cholesterol, blood sugar, and insulin levels. Participants also have the option of having their blood test results and electronic copies of their heart and brain MRI scans sent to their physician(s).

Currently, the Heart & Brain Aging study is recruiting individuals with a diagnosis of MCI. If you have been told by your doctor that you have mild cognitive impairment or MCI and you are interested in hearing more about the study, please contact the study coordinator, Ms. Amanda Gentile, by phone (617-414-1077) or email (amgent@bu.edu) to learn more about enrolling.