(HealthDay News) — Older adults with lower scores on executive function tests are significantly more likely to experience coronary heart disease (CHD) or stroke, new research suggests. 

The study was published in Neurology.

Behnam Sabayan, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, and colleagues looked at 3,926 people with an average age of 75. None had a history of heart attack or stroke. But, all of the study volunteers either had a history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or an increased risk due to hypertension, diabetes or smoking. None of the participants suffered from dementia. 

Participants took four tests of higher-level thinking skills indicating executive function and were placed into groups of low-, medium- and high-scorers based on the results. They were then tracked for an average of 3 years to determine their prevalence of CHD or stroke.

Results indicated that individuals with the lowest scores of executive function skills were at an 85% increased risk for CHD and 51% increased risk for stroke compared with those with the highest scores. In that time, 176 of 1,309 people with the lowest scores experienced a coronary event, compared with 93 of 1,308 people with the highest scores. 

Meanwhile, there were 69 strokes among those with the lowest scores, compared with 48 strokes among those with highest scores.

While participants with lower executive function scores were slightly older on average and had fewer years of education, the results stood even after adjustment for these factors, Sabayan told HealthDay

“Overall, our findings highlight that older [people] with lower executive function need closer attention in terms of cardiovascular risk management,” he said.

One author disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.


  1. Rostamian S et al. Neurology. 2015;doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000001895.