Caring Currents

Memory Problems? Don't Blame Bypass Surgery

Last updated: May 23, 2008

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Patients who've undergone cardiac bypass surgery often develop problems with cognitive skills, like memory and language. In the past, this mental decline has often been blamed on the bypass pump used during surgery. A new study from Johns Hopkins suggests that coronary artery disease itself may actually be the culprit.

Researchers looked at cognitive function (including memory, motor speed, attention, and the ability to plan ahead) over six years in two groups of heart patients: Those who had bypass surgery, and those who received nonsurgical treatments such as medications and stents.

The results were dramatic: Patients in both groups experienced an almost identical decline in cognitive skills. This suggests that coronary artery disease itself, and not bypass surgery, is responsible for long-term loss of mental function.

Believe it or not, this may actually be good news for heart patients. Study author Guy McKhann points out that these findings may help lift the stigma that keeps some doctors from recommending bypass surgery. And by keeping coronary artery disease under control, your parent may be able to limit or avoid mental decline. "If we take a very aggressive approach to treating risk factors for heart disease, including keeping a handle on diabetes, blood pressure, and weight, patients may be able to avoid these cognitive problems," says McKhann.

Blogger Gwen Mergian speculates that eating a heart-healthy diet might help ease cognitive decline. What else might help? Regular exercise, managing stress and depression, keeping blood pressure and diabetes under control. 

Hey, if it's good for the heart, it's probably good for the brain, too.

Image by flickr user frenkieb used under the Creative Commons attribution license.