Prevention: Vascular Health

Developments in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia research have found strong links between brain function and vascular conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. There are also links between brain health and metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity. Reducing risk factors for these conditions may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Our blood vessels feed the brain, but over time, the vessels become restricted and can’t function as well. We are born with normal, healthy blood vessels at birth, but by the teenage years our bodies have levels of plaque forming in vessels. The plaque means the blood simply doesn’t have as much room for healthy blood to flow. This affects the heart because the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the narrow vessels, making it harder for the heart to feed blood to the brain.

These damaged arteries in the heart reduce blood flow to the brain, which contributes to memory loss and leads to slower brain function. Decreased blood flow can also lead to heart attack and stroke. The good news is it’s possible to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. And it’s never too late: it’s possible for people who have already experienced heart attacks or stroke to lower the risk of repeated attacks. Practicing heart healthy behaviors can have benefits for anyone, regardless of age or health.

Research studies, including a recent study by Dr. Bendlin of the WADRC, have confirmed a link between Alzheimer's disease and diabetes. The American Diabetes Association has estimated that 27 percent of people ages 65 and older in the U.S. have diabetes. People with diabetes face double the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. One theory is that a person with diabetes may have brain cells that become insulin resistant. And because brains need some levels of insulin to function, the low levels of insulin in the brain can cause memory loss. Maintaining proper blood-sugar levels is one ways to promote brain health.

How to improve Vascular Health:

  • Quit Smoking. It’s never too late to quit smoking. Researchers have found even as little as two weeks after quitting smoking, vascular health starts to improve.
  • Know Your Numbers: Know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. Working with your doctor can help you find the range of cholesterol levels and blood pressure range that’s best for your body. Monitoring these levels will help alert you to possible symptoms of heart disease.
  • Limit Alcohol: The MIND Diet and diet plans from the American Heart Association both recommend limiting alcohol levels.
  • Limit Sodium: Limit sodium to two grams per day or less.
  • Practice portion control
  • Be physically active. A healthy heart and lungs can pump blood better and faster to the brain, resulting in better brain health


More Health Habits to Prevent Alzheimer's and Dementia