Heart conditions such as coronary artery disease and cardiovascular risk factors including diabetes and high cholesterol have a stronger association with decline in memory and thinking skills during midlife for women than men – despite a higher prevalence of those conditions in men – a study from the US Mayo Clinic suggests. “It is well known that men, compared to women, have a higher prevalence of cardiovascular conditions and risk factors in midlife. However, our study suggests that women in midlife with these conditions and risk factors are at greater risk of cognitive decline ,” says Michelle Mielke, a Mayo Clinic epidemiologist and neuroscientist, and senior author of the study, which was published in the journal Neurology . “While all men and women should be treated for cardiovascular conditions and risk factors in midlife, additional monitoring of women may be needed as a potential means of preventing cognitive decline .” The research used the population-based Mayo Clinic Study of ageing and included 1,857 participants without dementia who were aged 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, the participants’ global cognition was evaluated with nine tests of memory, language, executive function and spatial skills. They assessed participants’ cardiovascular condition, including coronary artery disease, heart rhythm disorders, congestive heart failure, peripheral artery disease and stroke . They also looked at risk factors including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity. Tips for a healthy heart – are you taking care of yours? About 79 per cent of the participants, or 1,465, had at least one cardiovascular risk factor or condition – 83 per cent of men, compared to 75 per cent of women. The study found most cardiovascular conditions were more strongly associated with cognitive function among women. The annual decline for global cognition associated with coronary artery disease, for example, was more than two times greater for women than men. 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 women and men’s health, Mielke says. Middle-aged adults – especially women with a history of heart disease – may be considered subgroups that need early monitoring. Additional research is needed across the lifespan to examine potential mechanisms explaining sex differences in the relationship between cardiovascular factors and cognition, such as hormones, genetics, lifestyle and psychosocial factors, Mielke says. Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .