You’ll Never Believe the Deadly Connection Between Heart Disease and Dementia

Heart disease and dementia are both common, devastating illnesses that affect hundreds of thousands of adults across the country. Though older adults are more at risk for both these and other health conditions, they can strike anyone of middle age, too.

If that seems overwhelming, there’s good news. Certain healthy habits can decrease your risk of more than one disease at once. If you’re worried about dementia, and your heart, focusing on one might help you avoid the other.

Heart disease is the deadliest illness in the U.S.

Stethoscope sitting on an red ECG printout

This disease is no joke. | iStock.com/RTimages

It’s the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. It kills an estimated 600,000 Americans every single year, and costs the nation billions annually in health care spending and productivity loss.

Next: Dementia appears on the same list as heart disease.

Dementia is almost just as deadly

Dementia impacts a lot of people across the country. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia costed Americans over $250 billion in 2017. Millions of people over 65 live with it, and thousands die from it every year. It’s also a leading cause of death in the U.S., and the only chronic disease on that list without a possible cure.

Next: What actually causes heart disease, besides bad dieting?

How does your heart get sick?

Middle-aged businessman suffering chest pains

Here’s how heart problems happen. | iStock.com/mheim3011

There’s more than one type of heart disease — how it impacts you specifically really depends. But narrow or blocked arteries and weakened heart muscle are common reasons your body can’t circulate blood as well as it once did.

There are some risk factors you can’t do anything about, like your age or your genes. Contrary to some myths about the disease, though, it’s not always an immediate death sentence. Neither is dementia.

Next: Here’s why older adults have trouble remembering things.

What causes dementia?

Two trees in the shape of a human head and brain as a symbol of the stress

Dementia can be difficult for the person affected. | iStock.com/wildpixel

Healthy brains allow people to think, communicate, and remember. Different parts of the brain communicate by sending signals across pathways. A decline in these functions can signal disease.

People with dementia usually have collections of proteins in their brains — some called plaque, and others called tangles. Though doctors don’t know exactly why these develop, they’re likely the reason it’s so hard for these individuals to recall information and communicate effectively.

Next: You probably had no idea these two things were related.

How heart disease increases dementia risk

Human Heart Anatomy Illustration. 3D render

Your heart has more of an impact than you might think. | iStock.com/Nerthuz

Doctors are making new discoveries about how your heart and brain are connected in terms of disease. Whether due to age or other factors — or a combination of things — the more damaged your heart, the more likely you are to experience the progressive cognitive decline often associated with dementia.

Additionally, the same factors that increase your risk of heart disease — like smoking and high blood pressure — also increase your dementia risk.

Next: You can protect your heart without much effort.

Easy ways to lower your risk of heart disease

Woman having heart attack symptom

These tips may help. | iStock.com/Tharakorn

People who don’t sleep well, sit too much, and avoid nutritious foods have an increased risk of heart disease. Even if you don’t smoke, monitor your alcohol consumption, and exercise regularly, these habits still endanger your heart.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, taking some steps throughout your day, and balancing your junk food intake with healthier foods to feed your heart the nutrition it needs.

Next: By protecting your heart, you can also preserve your brain.

How to lower your dementia risk

Some of these tips may do the trick. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Exercise, nutritious food, and cautious drinking aren’t the only habits that can support long-term brain health — though they’re definitely effective.

The more you laugh, the better your chances of preserving brain function as you age. Consistent, high-quality sleep isn’t just good for your heart — it’s good for your head, too. Also, the occasional crossword puzzle wouldn’t hurt.

Next: There’s one diet that could give you the results you want.

This is the best diet for both your heart and your brain

simmered kinki rockfish with sweetened soy sauce

A healthy diet is good for your heart and your brain. | iStock.com/bonchan

You’ve probably heard that certain foods are good for your brain. The good news is, many of these same foods also boost heart health.

People who follow the Mediterranean diet experience lower rates of heart disease than those who do not. The same diet, rich in plants, fish, and oils, can also decrease your chances of developing dementia. If you want to live longer, consider including more of these foods in your daily eating routines.

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