There may be a link between poor cardiac health and mental impairment in elderly women, researchers have found.
The American study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society finds that as a heart becomes less healthy, elderly women are more likely to develop illnesses affecting cognitive function, such as Alzheimer's disease.
Lead author Dae Hyun Kim claimed this is the first time a link between cognitive and cardiac malfunctions has been scientifically proven.
He said a healthy heart responds to physical and mental demands by varying its rhythm throughout the day.
However, he added: "Advancing age and disease can lower the heart's ability to change its rate and rhythm, which can be associated with changes in mental function."
More research was needed into the connection between cognitive and cardiac health, Dr Kim urged, stressing: "Mental impairment in the elderly is a major public health issue, and has significant effects on caregivers, the healthcare system and society."
Scientists hope that by identifying the factors which can lead to mental decline, such as heart health, doctors can help older people maintain their cognitive abilities.