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“Heart health = brain health”. It’s a common phrase used by medical professionals familiar with the world of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. More and more often, cognitive function related to heart disease and other heart conditions is identified.

A study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology administered cognitive tests to a large group of patients. These exams included elements like orientation to time and verbal memory. Patients who received a diagnosis of coronary heart disease received lower scores more quickly than before getting the diagnosis.

There are many risk factors related to heart health that could eventually affect brain health and cognition, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and medication.

Dr. Neelum T. Aggarwal, director of research at the Rush Heart Center for Women and a cognitive neurologist at the Rush Cardiology Cognitive Clinic says she and other medical professionals are observing more cognitive function issues connected to heart disease due to patients living longer, undergoing heart procedures and using medications.  “What is good for your heart is good for your head”. Dr. Aggarwal was not involved in the above-named study. Drawing on her own work at the Cardiology Cognitive Clinic, Aggarwal says she and her team help their patients address conditions that may eventually negatively affect brain health.

So how do you protect your brain and your heart at the same time? Many medical professionals and guidelines from the World Health Organization encourage healthy lifestyles: limit consumption of red meat, alcohol and tobacco products. Incorporate a Mediterranean diet as much as possible. Implement exercise and movement into your daily routine. Keep the mind active with reading, puzzles and other stimulating activities. Maintain important social connections. Reducing your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias is a multi-faceted effort that includes addressing your bio, psycho and social risk factors. As we know now, making heart health a priority is a great first step.