6 Tips to Reduce Dementia Risk

by Dr. Anne Encarnacion Constantino, MD
August 22, 2018

There’s an old expression that age doesn’t make you forgetful, it’s the amount of things you have to remember. But when it comes to dementia, which affects 5.7 million Americans, memory loss can be prevented or at least reduced as we grow older.

Dementia is an umbrella diagnosis that describes a group of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, that might cause the brain to fail. Dementia becomes increasingly higher after age 60. While 7 percent of adults 60 and older have dementia, nearly 30 percent of those 85 and older do. All types of dementia lead to a continued loss of brain tissue, which can affect:

  • Behavior
  • Emotions
  • Memory
  • Perceptions
  • Thinking

Some forgetfulness is to be expected as we age, but these six tips can help slow down memory loss as we age—or stop it in its tracks.

Dementia affects 5.7 million Americans, impacting memory, behavior, emotions, and more. Dr. Constantino has 6 tips to help people reduce their risk of developing dementia, via @MedStarHealth

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Poor sleep is a risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. As a medical school professor, I’ve witnessed the short-term memory effects in my students. Those who don’t sleep well for a few days tend to forget more facts and do poorly on tests. Imagine the effect this can have on people over a long period of time! Sleep apnea can also contribute to memory problems.

2. Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet benefits your brain as much as your waistline. You’ll see people in their 90s who have a good memory, and oftentimes their diets are healthy—full of fruits and vegetables, and hardly any processed foods. A poor diet can lead to nutritional disorders, which is another reason people experience memory loss. Having a healthy diet can help people avoid vitamin B1 and B12 deficiency, as well as thyroid conditions.

3. Exercise regularly

Exercise can help preserve brain health as we age. However, the National Academies of Sciences reports that, despite advances in understanding dementia risk factors, the idea that exercise might delay or slow age-related memory loss has not yet been proven.

Unfortunately, some adults shun exercise and many children watch TV and play video games more than they play sports or spend time outside. Taking the time to exercise at least 30 minutes per day can go a long way in preserving brain health.

4. Stimulate your mind

Evidence suggests that doing activities that require high levels of mental stimulation and education helps reduce cognitive decline. This can help people who are beginning to develop dementia function normally for longer.

I encourage people to spend their days doing what they enjoy. If working with computers makes you happy, then try to have a job that includes tinkering with computers or do so in your free time. If you like cars, make time for driving and working on them.

5. Prioritize your social life

Make time to have fun with friends and family—it’s good for the soul and the brain. In fact, one study found that being highly social later in life can decrease dementia risk by 70 percent. Regularly socializing with family and friends doesn’t mean you have to go to parties. Talk with friends and loved ones on the phone and consider volunteering. Helping others benefits you cognitively because you’re creatively using your brain by conversing and problem solving for others.

6. Manage your stress and anxiety

Chronic depression and anxiety might lead to an increased risk for developing dementia, studies suggest. We all deal with some level of stress and anxiety, but it’s important we always try to keep it under control. My best advice is to ask your primary care doctor for help managing your depression and anxiety, especially if it is chronic.

A majority of dementia cases are caused by lifestyle factors, not genetics. It’s up to us to take the necessary steps to reduce our risk and protect our memories for years to come.

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Category: Living Well     Tags: Wellness