I think we all know how prevalent dementia and its more serious form, Alzheimers, is these days. It is likely 1 in 10 people will have dementia once over 65 years of age and women are over represented at 2/3 of dementia cases. I’ll bet we have all wondered “Am I getting dementia?” after we lose our car keys or forget why we walked into a room. We all have bouts of forgetfulness as we age but dementia means the forgetfulness regularly interferes with everyday abilities and life.
Nature or Nurture
There are hereditary factors that contribute to our likelihood of getting dementia but there are also many environmental causal factors. Examples of these controllable causes are sport-related concussions, exposure to toxins such as lead or other chemicals, or substance abuse in the form of alcohol or drugs. Most time we don’t know the precise causes, so I believe we might as well do as much dementia prevention as we all can to prevent or delay it from happening to us.
Top Dementia Prevention Options:
1. Physical Activity
We know that cardiovascular health affects cerebrovascular or brain health, so it is important to get 2 ½ hours of moderate intensity exercise weekly. Light intensity movement requires more time every week to have the same affect, and harder intensity activity would allow less overall time. No matter what intensity of exercise or how long we exercise, the bottom line is to get moving!
2. Diet and Nutrition
The current thinking is that a mediterranean diet is the most beneficial for overall health as well as dementia prevention. This type of diet emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods, replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive or canola oil and using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods. See more information here on this way of eating.
3. Medical and Mental Health
Ideally we would prevent any medical or mental health problems by:
- Not smoking
- Eating healthy
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Maintaining a healthy weight
But if we happen to get sick, then it is critical to manage the disease appropriately, whether physical or mental. One form of decreased mental health that becomes prevalent as we age is depression, which is especially linked to dementia. But all forms of disease are important to first avoid, then if that’s not possible, seek treatment to resolve or manage.
Sleep deprivation not only affects our current lifestyle but our brain health as well, thereby increasing the risk of dementia. A chronic sleep restricted state can cause increased fatigue, daytime sleepiness, clumsiness and weight problems. Lack of sleep on an on-going basis adversely affects the brain and cognitive function, hence mental health.
2. Mental Stimulation
We’ve all heard that playing games and learning new things is good for our brain health and indeed they show a slight correlation to avoiding dementia. Games like Lumosity or Staying Sharp can provide positive mental stimulation as can learning a new hobby such as dancing, playing bridge or taking up a new sport. Think about some of the oldest yet most interesting people you know. They are likely staying sharp by using their minds frequently and creating new neural pathways by trying new things.
3. Social Engagement
Aging can contribute to loneliness as we lose friends, aren’t as able to get out and about, or find activities in which we want to participate.
It is important to maintain our friendships and engage socially in order to keep up our brain health. Studies show that social engagement is markedly associated with increased quality of life and considerably decreased depressive symptoms, especially in women.
It is interesting to me how many factors are the same whether we are trying to stay healthy physically or mentally. The hard part, to quote Nike, is to ‘Just Do It.’
If you need a reminder, jot these down and put them on a Post-it note where you’ll see them every morning:
Get plenty of sleep
Maintain a healthy weight
Use your brain often