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Does Heart Disease Affect the Nervous System?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four deaths in the US is attributed to heart disease. The term “heart disease” covers many conditions regarding heart health. The heart is made of muscles, valves and arteries and each of these can be affected by disease. For elderly adults, the effects of aging on the heart are an ever-present concern. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) reports that the risk of heart disease increases as we age. Women are at greater risk after the age of 55 and the risk for men increases at age 45.

In order to keep your body and heart healthy, it is important to understand what body systems are affected by heart disease, how each system is impacted and how to prevent heart disease in the first place.

What Body Systems are Affected by Heart Disease?

When heart disease is present, the heart is in a weakened condition and must work harder to perform its daily functions. This added strain on the heart can increase the damage started by the disease. As the heart struggles, less oxygen is delivered throughout the body, causing additional symptoms to appear in many other body systems.

Both your lungs and your kidneys play an important role in circulation. Once your tissues and organs receive the necessary nutrients and oxygen, blood returns to your heart. It then travels to the lungs to collect oxygen before once again traveling back out to the rest of the body. If your heart is not pumping blood properly, fluid can build up in your body and your lungs. Your kidneys are not able to cycle out excess waste and water if they do not receive the needed amount of oxygen-rich blood. This can cause swelling in your legs, ankles and feet. Additional signs that your lungs and kidneys are affected by heart disease include:

  • Ongoing fatigue or a decrease in overall energy level
  • Waking up due to shortness of breath
  • A wheezing cough
  • Weight gain
  • Swelling in the legs or abdomen
  • Shortness of breath during periods of activity

The National Institute for Health (NIH) reports that many studies are also beginning to link heart disease with brain health.

How Does Age Affect Cardiovascular Disease?

As we grow older, many people wonder about the effects of aging on the cardiovascular system. The NIH notes that people over the age of 65 are more likely to have a stroke, experience a heart attack or develop coronary heart disease than younger people. The effects of aging on the heart are likely due to the changes in the heart that occur naturally as we get older. These changes include, but are not limited to factors such as:

  • As we age, our heart cannot beat as fast during periods of stress or physical activity as it did during our younger years.
  • Older adults are more likely to have fatty deposits in the walls of their arteries, which is a major cause of heart disease.
  • The stiffening of the arteries as we age can contribute to hypertension and high blood pressure.
  • The chambers of the heart may increase in size as we age. This means the amount of blood each chamber can hold may decrease and the heart may fill more slowly. These changes increase the risk of atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm issue in elderly adults.
  • People become more sensitive to salt as we age, which causes an increase in blood pressure and potentially causes swelling in the feet or ankles.
  • The electrical system of the heart is impacted by age in that a slower, more rapid or irregular heartbeat may begin to occur.

Things outside of your control, such as your family history, may also increase your risk of heart disease.

What are the Effects of Aging on the Nervous System?

Your brain and nervous system change as you age with varying effects, just like the effects of aging on the cardiovascular system. As we grow older, our spinal cord and our brain lose weight and nerve cells. The nerve cells may begin to pass messages more slowly and waste products can collect in the brain tissue as the never cells break down. All these effects of aging on the nervous system can impact our daily life. Some of these impacts include:

  • The breakdown of nerves can affect the senses. You may lose reflexes or sensation, which can cause issues with safety and movement.
  • The slowing of thought is a normal part of aging, however, if it is due to changes in the brain tissue, it could be more serious and could indicate severe memory loss.

Managing Health as We Age

There are steps you can take now to improve your heart health and reduce the effects of aging on the heart and the effects of aging on the nervous system. These include:

Quit smoking. Smoking adds damage to the walls of your arteries. There are many benefits, to the heart and other organs, if you quit smoking at any point.
Eat a heart healthy diet. Selecting foods that are low in sugar, salt and trans fats will help reduce swelling and give you energy. Eating foods that are high in fiber, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, will give you energy and could help you lose weight. Reducing or eliminating alcohol from your diet is also a healthy step.
Stay active. Daily physical activity is recommended for optimum heart health. Talk to your physician about what activities may be right for you.
Focus on mental health. Playing board games, doing puzzles, reading and writing are all great ways to keep your mind sharp.
Manage healthy conditions. Follow your doctor’s advice regarding medication and disease maintenance. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can all impact your battle with heart disease.
Maintain a healthy weight. The NIH reports that keeping your weight in a healthy range puts less strain on your heart, while also reducing your risk of other weight-related health issues.

Planning for Future Care

For some seniors, a senior rehabilitation or skilled nursing facility may be their best choice at regaining their health and lifestyle. For those with a chronic condition, such as heart disease, or those recovering from an accident or surgery, the options available at a skilled nursing facility are invaluable.

Metropolis Rehabilitation & Health Care Center has a team of care professionals ready to work with you, your family and your physician to create a personalized care plan. We want you to meet your goals, while feeling supported and cared for. We offer services in areas including gerontology, neurology, physiatry, psychiatry and nephrology with a focus on helping you to regain your strength and independence. Click here to learn more.