January 25, 2022
Older men and women who have a high heart rate at rest — 80 beats a minute or higher — are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new report. Having a high resting heart rate, or pulse, was also tied to a faster decline in memory and thinking skills.
For the study, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden followed 2,147 residents of Stockholm aged 60 and older for up to 12 years. All had normal memory function at the start of the study, but by the study’s end, 289 had developed Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
The researchers found that those with an elevated resting heart rate of 80 beats a minute or more had a 55 percent higher risk of developing dementia than those whose pulse at rest was in the 60s. Cognitive function also declined faster in those with a resting heart rate in the 70s or higher, compared to those who resting heart rate was in the 60s.
The researchers considered other factors that may raise dementia risk, including heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. An elevated heart rate at rest was independently tied to an increased risk of memory problems. The findings were published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
The study shows only a correlation between a higher resting heart rate and an increased dementia risk, but “it would be valuable to explore if resting heart rate could identify patients with high dementia risk,” said the study’s lead author, Yume Imahori. “If we follow such patients’ cognitive function carefully and intervene early, the onset of dementia might be delayed.”
Resting heart rates in the range of 60 to 100 are generally considered “normal” in adults, though some experts say an optimal resting heart rate is in the 50 to 70 beats per minute range.
Many factors, however, go into determine your heart rate, and heart rates vary considerably from person to person. Caffeine, stress, anxiety, alcoholic beverages and other factors such as poor sleep can raise heart rates in the short term.
Over the long term, regular exercise can lead to a lower resting heart rate. Competitive athletes, for example, may have resting heart rates as low as 40 beats per minute. Various medications for a variety of medical conditions can also raise or lower someone’s resting heart rate.
You can check your resting heart rate by putting two fingers on your wrist or the side of the neck and counting heartbeats for 60 seconds. Fitness trackers or smartphone apps can also measure your resting heart rate. You should take multiple measurements, and take your pulse when you are in a relaxed state. Typically the lowest resting rate over a period of 24 hours is while sleeping and after several hours of sleep. If your heart rate appears to be exceptionally high (or low), or if it seems to be irregular, it doesn’t mean you are at high risk for memory problems or Alzheimer’s disease. But you may want to check with your doctor. It may be a sign of a condition that could benefit from treatment.
By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.
Source: Yume Imahori, Davide L Vetrano, Xin Xia, et al: “Association of resting heart rate with cognitive decline and dementia in older adults: a population-based cohort study.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia, Dec. 3, 2021.