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9 Steps to Help Prevent Dementia

“Dementia” is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of cognitive diseases and conditions which develop as neurons in the brain die or stop functioning normally. This then leads to changes in memory, behaviour, and the ability to think clearly.

“There is no sure way of preventing dementia. However, research has identified several risk factors associated with dementia. While there are some risk factors you can’t control, such as genetics or age, many risk factors can be managed through lifestyle changes or appropriate medical treatments.”

The Risk Factors

The risk factors for dementia are different in everybody.

Your potential for developing dementia may be influenced by:

Non-modifiable risk factors are risks that cannot be changed, such as:

  • age – as you age, your risk of developing dementia increases 
  • genetics – there are a few very rare forms of dementia associated with specific genes
  • family history – a family history of dementia increases your risk of developing dementia but at this stage it is not clear why. 

Modifiable risk factors are risks that can be changed through lifestyle choices. You can reduce your risk of dementia by looking after your:

  • heart health
  • body health
  • mind health

Lifestyle Choices as Dementia Prevention Strategy

Although the prevalence of dementia is expected to triple over the next 40 years, research has revealed risk factors that we can influence through lifestyle choices. A new study has concluded that 30-50% of Alzheimer’s disease cases could be preventable.

Only recently have doctors and researchers begun thinking that dementias are preventable. The prospect of being able to delay, prevent and even reverse the onset of dementia has led to a wave of new investigations. These studies have begun to show that lifestyle choices and management of other health conditions can help to keep dementia at bay.

Stay physically active

Some of the most significant evidence that risk factors for dementia can be modified through lifestyle changes is research which links brain health to heart health. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia appears to increase with many conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels.

Research discovered that lifestyle changes that address the risk factors for heart disease can prevent and even reverse it. These same lifestyle changes can also prevent Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

With this in mind, here are 9 steps you can take to ward off dementia.

  1. Stay physically active. Walking, cycling, gardening, tai chi, yoga, or any other exercise of your choice for around 30 minutes a day provides good blood flow to the brain and encourages new brain cell growth.
  2. Eat a plant based diet. (see below for more information)
  3. Stop smoking.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight.
  5. Stay socially active. You could take a class, volunteer, or just spend time with friends.
  6. Stay mentally active. Try to exercise your brain on a daily basis by engaging in mentally challenging work or activities, such as learning a language, puzzles, or playing games with friends.
  7. Get more quality sleep. Try to get at least seven or eight hours every night.
  8. Limit or cut out alcohol consumption.
  9. Protect your head. Fasten your seatbelt, wear a helmet when participating in sports, and “fall-proof” your home. 

Research has suggested that combining good nutrition with mental, social, and physical activities may be better for maintaining or improving brain health than any single activity.

Plant-Based Diet

Research has shown that a plant based diet is not only beneficial to the brain, but may also help to prevent dementias including Alzheimer’s disease. Eating well can help to protect our memory as we grow older.

Saturated and trans fats which are found in dairy products, meat, fried foods, and pastries can have a negative impact on brain health and increase the risk of cognitive decline. Instead, research suggests we eat a plant based diet, including berries and foods rich in Vitamin E, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and whole grains.

Mindful Eating Practices
Mindful Eating can help

Research suggests that you should also take a B12 supplement to preserve nerve function, but avoid supplements which contain iron and copper, which can be harmful to brain health. Only take iron supplements if instructed by your doctor. Be sure to choose aluminium-free products including cookware and baking powder.

In addition to diet, sleep and regular exercise are vital for optimal brain health.

Sources:

 Ornish Lifestyle Medicine

https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia/dementia-research/reduction-and-prevention

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

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