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The Heart Of The Problem

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a cognitive condition that affects memory, thinking, and reasoning. Alzheimer’s is caused by a variety of genetic and lifestyle factors. Many people with the condition also have experienced cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure and cholesterol as well as obesity.

Genetic and environmental factors

Research suggests that issues related to the cardiovascular system may contribute to factors that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to a genetic link, poor lifestyle habits and certain environmental factors can affect a person’s risk.

A genetic link

Research has found that Alzheimer’s and heart disease share a genetic link, the apolipoprotein E (ApoE). Genetic testing has found that having a specific variant of the ApoE gene increases levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and increases a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease.

Scientists haven’t found exactly how the gene variant contributes to Alzheimer’s. Researchers believe that the gene slows down the process of amyloid plaque removal. Amyloid plaque buildup is seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. A genetic link to Alzheimer’s and heart disease isn’t a death knell, but findings do suggest that heart health plays an important role.

Amyloid plaque buildup

Excessive amyloid plaque buildup is one of the critical markers for Alzheimer’s disease. Plaque deposits can exist anywhere in the body, including the heart. Heart problems can contribute to problems elsewhere in the body. Plaque can collect between neurons and block cell communication, blood flow, and oxygen supply to every organ in the body.


Arteriosclerosis is the hardening of arteries. This occurs as people get older and plaque builds up and hardens over time. The narrow blood vessels don’t allow the necessary amount of oxygen to reach tissues in the body. Research has found that stiffness in blood vessels is a contributing factor to heart failure and Alzheimer’s.

Optimizing brain and heart health

Many lifestyle changes can help decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s. Staying physically active and exercising regularly can slow down the progression of symptoms. A healthy Mediterranean diet has also been shown to mitigate the progression of Alzheimer’s. Healthy sleeping habits can reduce plaque buildup and improve a person’s overall quality of life. For more information regarding both cognitive and heart health, speak with a healthcare provider.