Researchers estimate that nearly 100,000 cases of dementia in American adults could have been prevented simply by having better vision, particularly in middle age.
Sensory loss has gotten more attention recently for its role in dementia risk. In the same study, dual hearing and vision problems increased the risk of dementia by 50 percent. Another study tied cataract surgery to a nearly 30% lower risk of dementia in adults.
And when developing a list in 2020 of modifiable risk factors for dementia worldwide, the Lancet Commission cited mid-life hearing loss as the most significant factor.
Dementia is an umbrella term covering symptoms caused by disorders in a person’s brain. The condition is progressive, with symptoms that gradually worsen. These include memory loss, changes in mood and behavior, and difficulties with thinking or language that reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks.
Common symptoms of dementia include:
There is currently no cure for dementia, but there are brain-healthy lifestyle choices and treatment options that can slow down its progression and improve quality of life.
Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most widely known form of dementia, there are actually five different types. They include:
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in older adults. Alzheimer’s is caused by the buildup of abnormal brain proteins, including amyloid plaques and tau tangles, and other brain changes.
Frontotemporal dementia is a rare form that primarily affects people below 60 years of age. Frontotemporal is caused by unusually high amounts or forms of two proteins: tau and TDP-43.
Abnormal deposits in the brain of Lewy bodies, comprised of the protein alpha-synuclein, cause Lewy body dementia.
Vascular dementia is caused by an interruption in the brain’s blood flow and oxygen. This is thought to be the result of conditions that have damaged blood vessels in the brain.
Mixed dementia is a catchall term for any combination of two or more of the dementia types listed above. Autopsies of older adults known to have suffered from dementia often identify the presence of multiple brain changes.
Risk factors don’t cause disease; they reflect the increased chance of developing it. At the same time, someone with no risk factors is not protected from getting the disease.
Twelve conditions have been identified as consistent risk factors for dementia. These are all considered controllable or modifiable through individual lifestyle choices. Three additional risk factors – age, gender, and genetics – are beyond a person’s influence.
In order of their perceived impact on dementia incidence, the 12 controllable risk factors include:
Regular physical activity is one of the best ways to decrease your risk of dementia, and it’s good for your mental health, weight, heart, and circulation too!
There are two types of physical activity. Strength-building activities include lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing pull-ups and push-ups, and climbing rock walls. Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, running, swimming, recreational cycling, and rowing.
Smoking harms your body’s ability to circulate blood freely, particularly in the brain, heart, and lungs. The sooner you quit, the more brain damage you can avoid.
“A lot of alcohol” is defined by Alzheimer’s advocacy groups as regularly drinking more than one beer or one glass of wine daily. Those who drink a lot of alcohol expose their brains to harmful chemicals. Binge drinking, or consuming large quantities of alcohol over a few hours, is particularly detrimental.
Keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and weight within recommended ranges. High blood pressure, clogged arteries and heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are all significant risk factors for dementia later in life.
Social interaction helps improve mood, relieve stress, and increase the brain’s ability to cope with the disease.
Having a conversation exercises a wide range of mental skills, such as active listening, determining the meaning of what someone is saying to you, creating effective ways to express yourself, and recalling memories or actions relevant to what you’re talking about.
Eat a well-balanced and healthy diet rich in protein, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. This reduces your risk of dementia and the risk of certain cancers, obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Self-care is good for many ills, including your dementia risk. Stress can increase your blood pressure and heart rate. It also releases cortisol, a hormone that can result in weight gain.
To help relieve stress, learn breathing and meditation techniques, listen to music, take a quick walk, exercise, stretch, or perhaps take a nap. Have a warm bath with aromatherapy oils, get a massage, give yourself a facial, or have a manicure or pedicure.
Anything that engages your mind, involves processing information, and works out your thinking skills is good for the brain and will help reduce your risk of dementia. Good examples include:
Avoid continuous exposure to loud sounds. Get your vision and hearing checked regularly, and wear eyeglasses, contacts, and hearing aids if any problems arise.
The link between sensory loss and dementia is not yet straightforward or fully understood. For one, people with poor vision or hearing have difficulty taking cognitive tests even if they don’t have dementia. That makes measurements and comparisons challenging to achieve.
However, researchers suspect that vision and hearing significantly impact whether and how seriously a person develops dementia. That alone makes your attention worthwhile.
Walk carefully and consider using a cane when you feel unsteady. Falls often result in head and brain injuries and cracked or broken ribs, hips, wrists, and ankles.
Think about installing handrails on all stairs around your home and grab bars in the bathrooms. Walk-in bathtubs are also very helpful,.both for helping to avoid falls and reducing stress.
Several studies have focused on whether air pollution contributes to cognitive decline and dementia risk. Evidence exists that tiny particles from air pollution can enter the brain. Still, there is no conclusive evidence on whether or not they play a role in developing dementia.
To be safe and for the sake of your lungs, skin, and eyes, limit your exposure to air pollution to the extent possible. For example, if you regularly take a walk outdoors, try to do it at a time of day when fewer cars are on the road emitting exhaust.