Alzheimer’s is a growing disease that currently affects an estimated 5.5 million Americans. This number is expected to climb because of the growing number of individuals living far longer than in any previous generation. Although longer life expectancy is a sign of a healthier and better cared for population, it is also an indicator that diseases which afflict the elderly will become more prevalent as the population ages.
10% of individuals older than 65 are living with Alzheimer’s dementia, and two-thirds of these are women.
These rates are also far higher in Hispanic and African American, although researchers do not fully understand why women and minorities experience a higher prevalence of the disease.
Some believe that this is associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety, others have found links to external socioeconomic factors such as nutrition, preventative health care, and smoking. Regardless, what is known is that as America’s population continues to age and the number of the very old rises, so too will the number of individuals living with dementia.
While research is still being conducted to determine possible causes, identify early indicators, and pursue possible cures, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased almost 90% since 2000. On the other hand, deaths from heart disease have decreased 14% in the same time.
Currently, one in three elderly Americans die with dementia and it is the sixth leading cause of death.
Apart from those living with cognitive impairment, a second and larger group affected by Alzheimer’s are the family and friends who care for their loved ones. Dementia takes a heavy toll on caregivers and is associated with substantial financial and emotional challenges. Although Medicare and Medicaid cover close to 70% of the $259 billion associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia care, out of pocket costs to individuals are estimated at nearly $70 billion per year.
Healthcare and long term care costs for those living with Alzheimer’s are up to three times higher than other diseases because dementia is associated with a higher number of hospital stays and with higher rates of other chronic conditions – including cardiovascular illness.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) and Alzheimer’s disease have been recently found to be related in several ways. One association involves evidence demonstrating that pre-existing cardiovascular illness dramatically increases the long-term risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that individuals with hypertension, or high blood pressure, in their 40s have a 24% higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Another study found that higher cholesterol is likewise associated with an increased risk of cognitive dysfunction later in life. Another association between heart disease and Alzheimer’s is that the incidence of ischemic stroke, which is often caused by CVD, also increases an individual’s probability of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
While cognitive impairment is associated with heart disease and stroke, CVD also shares common risk factors with Alzheimer’s – meaning that some of the reasons why people develop cardiovascular illness are the same reasons why some people develop dementia. These include preventable conditions such as obesity and type II diabetes (which accounts for 90% of individuals living with diabetes), as well as non-preventable or genetic factors such as the elevated presence of apolipoprotein E – a naturally occurring protein associated with the transport of cholesterol to the brain.
Studies have found that frequency of a specific variant of apolipoprotein E is associated with a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and that it is likewise a genetic risk factor for CVD. While it may not be possible to change genetics, apolipoprotein E has been found to interact with environmental risk factors such as smoking or poor diet. This means that while an individual’s genetics may predispose them to cardiovascular or Alzheimer’s disease, having healthy habits may reduce the elevated risks due to genetic factors. In fact, studies have shown that comprehensive treatment for heart disease may be beneficial in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Current diagnosis of Alzheimer’s relies largely on documenting mental decline, meaning that most patients will not know that they have Alzheimer’s until they begin experiencing cognitive impairment and the disease has already caused severe brain damage.
Although researchers are trying to determine new means of identifying Alzheimer’s before irreversible brain damage occurs, these are not yet readily available. For this reason, ongoing preventative care and monitoring of cognitive functions is the best way to reduce the risks of developing Alzheimer’s or diagnose the disease early on in order to implement a comprehensive treatment plan.
The strong link between Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease implies that many of the same preventative and disease management options used in the treatment of CVD will be effective in protecting patients from Alzheimer’s. Such options include physical exercise to improve cardiovascular fitness, lowering cholesterol through diet and medication, and quitting smoking.
Here at Dr. Leonard Pianko’s medical practice, we strongly believe that comprehensive preventative care is integral to the health of each of our patients. We offer holistic medical care to improve the overall well-being of our patients, and one important aspect of well-being is cognitive health. Because of the association between heart health and dementia, we are uniquely equipped to help our patients strategize the most effective means of lowering the risks of both CVD and of Alzheimer’s disease.
If you are interested in hearing more about protecting your heart and your mind from unnecessary health risks, please book an appointment at Dr. Pianko’s Aventura Cardiovascular Center today.
Call us at (305) 384-4720, our staff is waiting to help you live every day to its fullest with improved health outcomes. To find out more check us out on the web http://www.leonardpiankomd.com/
Dr. Leonard Pianko, the founder of the Aventura Cardiovascular Center, is board certified in cardiology and internal medicine with special expertise in cardiovascular disease, preventive cardiology, and non-invasive treatment options, including echocardiogram and nuclear stress testing. A native of New York, Dr. Leonard Pianko, M.D., F.A.C.C., was born in the Bronx, and earned an undergraduate degree from Yeshiva University in New York before receiving his medical education at top-ranked Mount Sinai School of Medicine and completing his training at the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine in New Brunswick, New Jersey. For more information about this blog contact Dr. Pianko at http://www.leonardpiankomd.com/contact.php.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Cardiovascular HealthAlzheimer’s Disease and Cardiovascular Health Alzheimer’s Disease and Cardiovascular Health