Results of tests that assess thinking skills can help determine whether you are at risk of getting a heart attack.

A new study conducted by European researchers showed that fuzzy thinking and lack of self-control in older people who do not suffer from dementia may lead to a greater risk for stroke or heart attack.

Researchers from the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands devised a test to assess the problem-solving and decision-making skills of older people to compare the risks of getting a stroke or heart attack.

For the study, the researchers gathered 3,926 older people who were on average 75 years old, from the Netherlands, Scotland and Ireland. The subjects either had a history of heart disease or an increased risk caused by high blood pressure, smoking or diabetes. All of the participants had no history of an actual stroke or heart attack.

Executive function, which includes decision-making skills and weighing out one's options in a given situation, was then assessed.

The researchers assessed the older people's executive function or thinking skills by conducting tests and looking at their selective attention, speed in processing decisions and their immediate and delayed memories.

Next, the researchers equally divided the group into three, based on their skills test on executive function. The study revealed that the participants with scores ranked in the lowest third of the group had an 85 percent increased risk of developing heart disease and a 51 percent greater risk of having a stroke compared with those whose scores landed in the top third.

The researchers also noted the participants' age, gender, body mass index, cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking history and education, and ended up with the same result: those at the bottom third were at a greater risk.

According to Leiden University Medical Center's Dr. Behnam Sabayan, the team expected a connection to stroke for participants who scored lower in the tests because this might indicate prior vascular damage in the brain. They were, however, surprised when they saw the increased risk for heart attack too.

"This might reflect that damage to the vessels is a global phenomenon in our body and when we see abnormalities in one organ we should think about the other organs as well," Sabayan added.

Sabayan's team further discussed results of their experiment in the journal Neurology.

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