We have all heard the saying “she has such a big heart” (not to be confused with “bless your heart”)! In our well-meaning comment, we are usually referring to someone we know who goes above and beyond, practices random acts of kindness, and brings joy to everyone they meet. However, could having a big heart mean problems down the road? The good news, in the context we refer to above, having a big heart is awesome, and a blessing if we have friends who have big hearts. In a literal sense, having a big heart can indeed lead to long-term, negative outcomes!
In research conducted by Michelle C. Johansen, MD, of the Department of Neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, older adults with an upper heart chamber that’s of abnormal size or doesn’t work well may have up to a 35% higher risk for dementia. Yikes, that’s a huge risk! A condition called cardiopathy has been linked to a higher risk of stroke and atrial fibrillation and both conditions are linked to a higher risk for developing dementia. Even in the absence of stroke or atrial fibrillation, researchers found that 34% of participants with atrial cardiopathy developed dementia, indicating an “association” not necessarily the cause.
The findings are troubling however, as always, more research needs to be done. Previous research has shown that heart failure can lead to dementia but now there may be a relationship with just the upper chambers of the heart. Lots to think about but what do we do? The study underlines the need to shift to prevention, control high blood pressure, live healthy lifestyles and of course, be sure you are seeing your primary care provider on a routine basis to help identify any changes in cardiac status! Be proactive! Stay well and stay informed!