Heart rate variability (HRV), a measure of autonomic function, has been associated with both cardiovascular disease and cognitive dysfunction. In turn, cardiovascular risk has been linked to an increased risk of dementia onset. However, whether autonomic dysfunction may represent an early marker of cognitive decline in individuals with high cardiovascular risk is still an open issue.
We performed a complete 24-hour HRV analysis in 50 middle-aged and elderly subjects with cardiovascular risk as assessed with the European Society of Cardiology Systematic Coronary Risk Evaluation (ESC SCORE). Cognitive performance was evaluated by Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test (FCSRT) and Stroop Color and Word Test. Stepwise regression was used to identify significant associations between 24-hour ambulatory ECGs parameters and cognitive performances.
There were 30 women and 20 men with mean age of 64.9 years (range 51-77) and the mean ESC SCORE was 6%. Four subjects were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Associations were found between measures of HRV and measures of cognition. Ultra-low frequency (ULF) band power of HRV significantly correlated with MoCA (r = 0.424, p = 0.003), also after adjustment for demographics and education. A significant association was also found between the ESC SCORE and ULF band power (r = -0.470, p = 0.0009).
Ultra-low frequency band power of HRV is associated with cognitive performance of middle-aged and elderly subjects with cardiovascular risk. This finding may indicate that autonomic nervous system dysregulation plays a role in developing cardiovascular risk and cognitive decline.

© 2022 The Author(s).