Publication Date



The clinical syndrome of heart failure is one of the leading causes of hospitalisation and mortality in older adults. An association between cognitive impairment and heart failure is well described but our understanding of the relationship between the two conditions remains limited. In this review we provide a synthesis of available evidence, focussing on epidemiology, the potential pathogenesis, and treatment implications of cognitive decline in heart failure. Most evidence available relates to heart failure with reduced ejection fraction and the syndromes of chronic cognitive decline or dementia. These conditions are only part of a complex heart failure-cognition paradigm. Associations between cognition and heart failure with preserved ejection fraction and between acute delirium and heart failure also seem evident and where data are available we will discuss these syndromes. Many questions remain unanswered regarding heart failure and cognition. Much of the observational evidence on the association is confounded by study design, comorbidity and insensitive cognitive assessment tools. If a causal link exists, there are several potential pathophysiological explanations. Plausible underlying mechanisms relating to cerebral hypoperfusion or occult cerebrovascular disease have been described and it seems likely that these may coexist and exert synergistic effects. Despite the prevalence of the two conditions, when cognitive impairment coexists with heart failure there is no specific guidance on treatment. Institution of evidence-based heart failure therapies that reduce mortality and hospitalisations seems intuitive and there is no signal that these interventions have an adverse effect on cognition. However, cognitive impairment will present a further barrier to the often complex medication self-management that is required in contemporary heart failure treatment.


Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research

Document Type

Open Access Journal Article

Access Rights

Open Access


© 2015 Cannon et al.; licensee BioMed Central. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Included in

Cardiology Commons