The Relationship Between Dementia and Heart Health
A growing body of medical research suggests that cardiovascular risk factors may lead to cognitive decline and dementia. Because blood vessels supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain, problems involving those blood vessels or the functioning of your heart can also affect brain health. That means the same factors that increase the risk of heart disease also have an impact on brain disease, increasing the risk of stroke and dementia.
The good news is that addressing the risk factors for heart disease can also boost your brain health.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a general term for an impaired ability to think, remember, or make decisions that hinders accomplishing everyday tasks. It mostly affects older adults, but it’s not considered a normal part of growing old.
There are four major types of dementia:
- Alzheimer’s disease: The most common cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60% to 80% of all dementia cases. Caused by specific changes in the brain, its symptoms include difficulties remembering recent events. Personality changes often occur in the later stages of the disease.
- Lewy body dementia: The second most common type of dementia, it occurs when protein deposits develop in nerve cells in the regions of the brain that control memory, thinking, and movement.
- Vascular dementia: This type of dementia occurs as a result of a stroke or other problems with blood flow to the brain. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
- Fronto-temporal dementia: This type of dementia encompasses a group of different brain disorders that affect the front and temple regions of the brain, which are associated with personality, behavior, and language.
Some people develop more than one type of dementia. For example, a person may suffer from vascular dementia as well as Alzheimer’s disease. These cases of mixed dementia typically occur in people older than 80.
What Causes Dementia?
Several factors can lead to dementia. Research has shown that family history and genetics play a role. Lifestyle choices are also associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. Researchers believe that poorly functioning arteries play a role in dementia because they affect the flow of blood to the brain. As a result, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, and diabetes are the major risk factors for dementia. Studies have also shown that high cholesterol levels are strongly linked to cognitive decline.
How Do I Lower the Risks?
Behaviors that promote vascular and heart health will also improve your brain health. What’s good for your heart is good for your brain! To help lower your risks of developing dementia or other cognitive disorders, you can follow these four tips to improve your heart and brain health:
- Eat a healthy diet. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, seafood, dairy products, and plant oils should be part of your diet. Avoid processed foods that have high levels of sugar or sodium. For better heart health, many doctors and nutritionists recommend the Mediterranean diet.
- Stop smoking and limit or eliminate alcohol consumption. Tobacco smoke and alcohol can damage the vascular system, which can impair the functioning of the heart and brain.
- Get enough sleep. Research has shown that older adults need at least seven hours of quality sleep each night.
- Be physically active. Avoid long periods of sitting and make physical exercise a normal part of your daily routine. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.
It’s also important to treat any risk factors you have. That may mean making lifestyle changes to lose weight or lower blood pressure or taking prescription medications to control high cholesterol.
Achieving Good Heart and Brain Health
Regular physical activity is a great way to improve your cardiovascular and brain health. It lowers blood pressure and will help you lose weight. Walking 30 minutes a day is a perfect activity for older adults. It can reduce the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular conditions, as well as stroke, dementia, and other types of cognitive decline.
If your fitness goal is to walk more, a good way to track your progress and stay motivated is to count your steps. Our Heart Club app was developed by our founder, a cardiologist trained at the Mayo Clinic. It includes a step counter that helps you maintain a healthy lifestyle. This all-in-one app helps you track your activity, record your blood pressure, and have access to important medical data — all on your phone. Learn how Heart Club can help you make walking a part of your healthier life.