Is Dementia Connected to Heart Health?

February 17, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Manisha Santosh Parulekar, M.D. contributes to topics such as Sleep Disorders, Dementia.

By: Katie Woehnker

There are many connections between your heart and your brain. But did you know that taking steps to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle not only helps you prevent heart disease, but can also help lower your risk of dementia?

Helping us understand how heart health influences brain health and cognitive function, Manisha Parulekar, M.D., chief of the Division of Geriatrics at Hackensack University Medical Center breaks down the basics.

What is dementia?

“Dementia is not a specific disease or illness, it’s a general term for various brain conditions. Classified by a decline in memory, problem-solving and overall thinking skills, these are conditions that interfere with a person’s ability to live life as they usually would. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia,” Dr. Parulekar states.

Common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Decline in critical thinking

The various forms of dementia may also present other symptoms like depression, difficulty with balance, confusion, sleep disorders, disorientation or behavior changes.

“We tell our patients that if usual tasks start becoming difficult – like if you’re someone who loves to cook but you’re now forgetting the recipe you’ve made for years, you’re getting lost on normal driving routes, or you’re forgetting to pay bills, that’s when you should start to worry about what may be going on with your memory,” advises Dr. Parulekar.

How are heart health and brain health connected?

Vascular health is a key component – this is your body’s network of blood vessels including your arteries, veins and capillaries which carries blood and oxygen throughout the body.

The brain signals to the heart to pump blood, and the heart responds by sending blood through the vascular system to circulate through your body, including your brain.

“The arteries are pathways for the blood, and when there is damage or clogs within the arteries, depending on where the blockage is you could develop various conditions. If there’s a blockage in the brain, you could have a vascular stroke (which can cause vascular dementia from the brain damage), if the blockage is in the heart, you could have a heart attack.”

Heart disease and dementia also share a number of risk factors, including:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity

“The connection between heart health and dementia is correlated – dementia is typically caused by damage to the brain cells, and heart disease can cause poor blood flow and brain damage. Therefore, if you reduce your risk for heart disease, you may reduce the risk of dementia,” says Dr. Parulekar.

How can you keep your heart healthy and ward off dementia?

A few simple guidelines for optimal heart health include:

  • Manage blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Reduce blood sugar
  • Stay physically active
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Stop smoking

In addition to these heart healthy tactics, Dr. Parulekar reminds us of one more important tip – keep your mind active.

“All of the heart healthy tips absolutely apply to brain health; however, we also encourage exercising your brain. Whether it’s sudoku or cross word puzzles, reading, or learning a new language, find something you enjoy that stimulates your brain, and do it consistently,” she adds.

Manisha Parulekar, M.D. specializes in geriatric medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center. She is board certified in geriatrics and internal medicine. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Parulekar, call 551-996-1140To find another doctor near you, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org/Doctors.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

Resources:

Alzheimer’s Association
American Heart Association