Reduce Your Risk of Dementia/Memory Loss, by Teepa Snow of Positive Approach to Care is published in the Spring, 2022 edition of Vibrant Senior Options Resource Guide.
Genetics Not Always a Risk Factor
Are you worried about getting dementia? Many people do not realize that dementia is not always genetically linked. In fact, the majority of dementia is not hereditary. There are certainly types of dementia that have a genetic component, such as Early-Onset Alzheimer’s and Frontotemporal dementia, and some have a stronger genetic connection than others. However, even for most of the genetically-linked dementias, having a parent with the disease does not guarantee that you will develop it. To find out how to reduce that risk as much as possible, read on.
Exercise to Reduce Risk of Dementia
Exercise significantly decreases your risk of getting dementia. Why? When you do aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, the oxygen and blood flow to your brain is increased. This increased flow helps keep your brain’s blood vessels healthy, which in turn keeps your brain cells healthy. Also, exercise helps stimulate the connections between nerve cells in the brain and encourages new brain cells and connections to be made. It is also thought that exercise helps slow the buildup of unhelpful proteins, free radicals, and inflammation in the brain that can lead to cell death and a slowing in brain connections. How much should you exercise? Experts recommend 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise for ideal benefits. If that seems overwhelming, start with less and work your way up to it.
Reduced Social Connections Impact Risk
A lack of social connection is a surprisingly strong risk factor for dementia. Humans are social beings, and isolation and loneliness significantly increase your dementia risk. Developing and maintaining social connections with friends or family members is an important step you can take to reduce your risk. If you know of someone who is isolated, reach out and connect with them.
Challenge Your Brain
Challenging your brain is another way to reduce your dementia risk. Learning new activities, doing jigsaw or word puzzles, playing board games that involve thinking or logic, attending classes, or learning a new skill are all ways that can help keep your mind as sharp as possible. Dancing is another excellent way to use your brain, as it involves coordination and rhythm, and often has a social aspect, too.
The food choices you make play a large role in dementia risk reduction. Current research shows that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish, legumes, nuts, and whole grains reduce the risk of developing dementia. Diets high in saturated fat, empty carbohydrates, sugar, red meat, or processed foods increase your risk. One direct reason for this is that increased body weight is correlated with an increased dementia risk. In addition, healthy diets result in less inflammation in the body and brain, which also decreases risk. Some foods actually contain compounds that are believed to protect the brain from decline.
Beverage choices matter, too. Consuming larger quantities of alcohol greatly increases your risk. Caffeine in coffee and tea is currently believed to be beneficial to cognitive function, while regular and diet sodas are linked to a decline in function. Drinking plenty of water is always a good idea, as well.
Sleep as a Factor of Risk of Dementia
Sleep is another key factor to dementia risk reduction. Sleeping six hours or less a night in middle age is linked to an increased risk of dementia. When you sleep, your brain cells shrink slightly, allowing harmful protein accumulations to be flushed away. If you’re not sleeping enough, then proteins and other toxins can build up in your brain, and can eventually lead to cognitive decline.
Stress Level Factors
This is often easier said than done, but reducing your stress level can decrease your dementia risk. Stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol, which has been linked to decreased cognitive function. Researchers are also currently studying other ways that stress is linked to cognitive decline.
Smoking Contributes to Risk of Dementia
Smoking is a significant dementia risk factor. Many toxins in smoke cause cell damage and inflammation, which can have a harmful effect on your brain. Smoking also causes problems with your blood vessels, including brain blood vessels, which can lead to dementia development. Quitting smoking reduces your dementia risk substantially.
Other Medical Conditions as Risk Factors
High blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, hearing loss, depression, and obesity are all significant risk factors for dementia. It is essential to visit your physician regularly and have any medical conditions treated and monitored. Take medications as prescribed and follow medical recommendations.
Focus on What You Can Control
Worrying about developing dementia does nothing to decrease your risk. In fact, stressing about it can actually increase your risk. Instead, focus on the dementia risk factors that you can control. Getting regular physical exercise, maintaining social connections, challenging your brain by occasionally learning something new, eating a healthy diet, getting the sleep you need, reducing your stress, quitting smoking, and ensuring that your health is regularly monitored are all part of reducing one’s risk of developing cognitive decline. If it seems like too much, choose one and take baby steps toward your goal. Remember, every little bit helps when it comes to reducing your risk of developing dementia.