“The number of people living with dementia worldwide is estimated at 47 million and is projected to increase to 75 million by 2030. The number of cases of dementia is estimated to almost triple by 2050.”[i] The good news is dementia is not a normal condition of growing older, although aging is the most significant risk to developing it.
The term “dementia” describes chronic disorders that advance over time and affect cognition, memory, and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent form of dementia. Less than one percent of Alzheimer cases are related to genetics, but certain health conditions may increase the chance of dementia.
Cardiovascular disease-causing conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Autopsy studies showed that as many as 80 percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease also had cardiovascular disease. Other factors, such as smoking, drug, and alcohol abuse may also set up the conditions to develop dementia.
Preventative Steps to Reduce the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s
While aging cannot be avoided, some steps can be done to help reduce the probability of developing dementia including incorporating lifestyle changes to prevent diseases associated with dementia.
- A study published in the American Academy of Neurology concluded that daily physical activity reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain which benefits brain cells. Another study measured the hippocampus of older adults after aerobic exercise because this part of the brain shrinks in late adulthood and leads to impaired memory. The results showed that aerobic exercise increased anterior hippocampus volume, improved spatial memory, and increased blood flow to the brain.
- Eat heart healthy. Research shows foods good for the heart are also good for the brain. Heart-healthy foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, seeds, and low-fat dairy. Fermented foods, probiotics, and prebiotics are also a part of a brain-healthy diet. Limit or eliminate processed foods, sugar, salt, and saturated fats.
- Keep learning. Intellectual activity stimulates the brain. Some studies indicate cognitive stimulation strengthens connections between nerve cells in the brain thereby lowering the risk of dementia. So, play games, do puzzles, and other exercises that train the brain, such as memorization and reasoning activities. And learn something new.
- Stay connected socially. Being isolated socially has been shown to increase the chance of having Alzheimer’s. The same “use it or lose” theory about how the learning improves brain health also pertains to being involved socially. Join a club where you learn something new.
- Sleep more. A study published in The American Academy of Neurology’s journal, Neurology, found people who get less dream stage sleep may have an increased chance of getting dementia. Other studies on sleep showed a relationship between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Meditation is known to change the brain and reduce stress. The hippocampus becomes activated during meditation, which was the focus of a small study by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Results suggest that meditation may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Talk to your doctor about anticholinergic medications. Anticholinergic medicines are known to affect memory, but it was thought the effects were short-term. Clinical studies, however, showed that certain types of these medications could contribute to developing dementia, primarily when used over a length of time. Shelly Gray, Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Washington, one of the authors of the study, says the chance of developing dementia begins to rise after three years of regular use. Anticholinergic drugs are used for a large variety of medical conditions, and many popular over-the-counter medications fall into this group.
While age, gender, and to some extent genetics may influence the chances of developing dementia disease, some steps can be taken to mitigate those chances. Those steps are the same for living a healthy life: exercise, eat healthily, reduce stress, meditate, stay mentally active, and get plenty of sleep.
10 facts on dementia (April 2017). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/dementia/en/.
Dementia. Key Facts (December 2017). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia.
Agnvall, Elizabeth. Common Sleep and Allergy Medications Linked to Dementia, Alzheimer’s (January 01, 2015). Retrieved from http://blog.aarp.org/2015/01/29/common-sleep-and-allergy-medications-linked-to-dementia-alzheimers/.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. (2013, November 18). Meditation may help slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 13, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131118141817.htm
Buchman, A.S., et al. Total daily physical activity and the risk of AD and cognitive decline in older adults (April 24, 2012). Retrieved from http://n.neurology.org/content/78/17/1323.
Erickson, Kirk I, et al. Exercised training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory (February 15, 2011). Retrived from http://www.pnas.org/content/108/7/3017.full.
Higher dementia risk linked to more use of common drugs (January 26, 2015). Retrieved from https://sop.washington.edu/higher-dementia-risk-linked-use-common-drugs/.
Marchione, Maryilynn, Associated Press. Study: Later retirement may help prevent dementia (July 15, 2013). Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/15/study-retirement-dementia/2517851/.
Prevention and Risk of Alzhimer’s and Dementia. Retrieved from https://alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_prevention_and_risk.asp.
[i] 10 facts on dementia, April 2017. Web.