When The Heart Goes, The Mind Follows

800,000 Americans had heart attacks. For those fortunate enough to survive, life will never be quite the same. And now doctors have discerned a new set of dangers. According to a study released this week by researchers at New York's Albert Einstein College of Medicine, women who suffer heart attacks may increase their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

The 10-year study examined the incidence of dementia in 488 residents of the Bronx between the ages of 75 and 85. Using a complicated statistical model, researchers compared men and women, heart-attack victims and non-heart-attack victims. The study was unable to draw a significant link between dementia and heart attacks in men. But it established that women in general are three times more likely to develop dementia than men. More alarming, women who have had heart attacks are five times more likely to develop dementia than women with healthy hearts.

Doctors are uncertain what makes women so susceptible. But even if they are unable to pinpoint the cause of the dementia, they are now more optimistic about limiting the onset. "Before, dementia was thought to be a product of aging, with no discernible cause," says Dr. William Frishman, one of the study's authors. "If indeed a relationship does exist, then it's possible that by preventing heart attacks, we can also prevent dementia and increase the quantity and quality of life."