February is National Heart Month, which puts a much-needed emphasis on increasing awareness of heart disease along with things we can all do to improve the health of our hearts.
What you may not know, however, is that there is a clear link between heart health and brain health! Furthermore, having a healthy heart helps individuals stay cognitively healthy longer. And that means it also helps those with dementia retain as much cognitive function as possible for as long as possible.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one type of dementia linked closely to heart health is vascular dementia. It occurs as the result of multiple “mini stokes” or “silent” strokes. This can lead to dementia, causing memory loss, slowed thinking and personality changes.
At our Anthem Memory Care communities, staff members work closely with our clinical team to make sure that our residents are following healthy guidelines to keep their bodies and minds optimized every day.
You can do this as well for your own health and that of your families. Here are five tips from the CDC to help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia:
- Eat healthy foods. These include foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. salmon) every week. Limit salt and include whole grains, vegetables and fruits. A good diet to follow (with guidance from your physician) is the Mediterranean Diet, which includes these foods in a well balanced daily diet.
- Limit alcohol consumption. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Alcohol raises blood pressure and can also increase the risk of some kinds of heart disease.
- Control your blood pressure. This is the leading cause of heart disease and stroke due to the added pressure on the blood vessels. Studies are now finding a link between uncontrolled high blood pressure and dementia. Be sure to get your blood pressure checked and adhere to your physician’s recommendations.
- Don’t smoke. We have known for years the many negative effects of smoking. It damages blood vessels and increases the likelihood of clotting which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Now is the time to take steps to quit.
- Get daily exercise. Experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week. It is always important, however, to consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.
It’s never too late to form a new habit. And all of these are great habits to form! Plus, knowing that heart issues can impact the brain makes it even more important to make decisions that will benefit both.
If you are caring for a loved one living with dementia, all the above are important to help them retain as much cognitive and physical health as possible. While we have yet to discover a cure for dementia, a healthy lifestyle is imperative to their well-being and quality of life.
Happy National Heart Month!