As you start growing old, you may start wondering about your increased risk of suffering from dementia. Dementias are a heavily researched medical topic and scientists are still trying to understand exactly how and why the condition develops in the first place.
Unfortunately, there’s a lack of scientifically proven approaches that can help completely treat the condition or guarantee to prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias from occurring. But just like almost every other disease, there are a few steps that you can take to reduce your risk of dementia.
What does research say about reducing the risk for dementia?
A 2020 report on dementia prevention by the Lancet commission evaluated multiple clinical studies on lifestyle changes aimed at treating or preventing dementia and age-associated cognitive decline.
The study found that the potential for prevention of dementia is “high” and controlling some modifiable dementia risk factors could help slow the development of dementia, which might make caring for dementia patients a bit easier. It went on to highlight 12 potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia and suggested that they are promising enough to warrant further research. Let’s take a look at them now.
Non-modifiable Risk Factors
Before we discuss the steps you can take to reduce your dementia risk, you should know about something called non-modifiable risk factors. These risk factors increase your chance of developing dementia but unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about them. Some examples of non-modifiable risk factors are age, gender, race, and genetics.
A person’s age is the greatest known risk factor for developing dementia. Generally, the older you are, the greater your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The overall incidence of dementia increases exponentially with each passing year and is thought to double every 5 years during the ages between 65 and 90 years. According to this study, adults aged 65 have a roughly 11.6% chance of developing dementia.
Genes are structures inside our cells that hold important information and are passed down to a person from their parents. Faulty and damaged genes can lead to dementia, although the chances of directly inheriting dementia from your parents are low. Nonetheless, if you have a parent or grandparent with dementia, you’re at an increased risk for the condition. Keep in mind that the development of many diseases often depends on both genetic and environmental factors (like smoking and lack of physical activity). So while there’s nothing you can do about your genes, it’s always a good idea to stay away from bad lifestyle habits.
Finally, your ethnicity and race can also be considered risk factors for dementia. A 2016 study found that the incidence of dementia was significantly higher in African Americans and Alaskan natives compared to other populations such as Asian Americans.
Modifiable Risk Factors — Factors You Can Work Upon
Unlike the case with non-modifiable risk factors, you can take steps to counter modifiable risk factors of dementia.
According to research, people suffering from high blood pressure (hypertension) in their middle age are more likely to face cognitive decline. They are also more likely to suffer from a form of dementia called vascular dementia, which results from minor bleeds in the brain due to high blood pressure. Therefore, treating hypertension with drugs and having good lifestyle habits such as regular exercise may significantly lower your risk of dementia. Here are five foods to naturally lower your blood pressure.
Uncontrolled sugar levels (diabetes)
A 2014 study showed that older adults suffering from diabetes are twice as likely to develop dementia than age-matched adults without diabetes. Higher than average blood sugar levels can lead to a variety of health problems, which is why it’s extremely important to maintain a healthy weight. Remember, the major risk factor for diabetes is obesity.
Obesity increases the risk for dementia not only via diabetes development but also directly. Eating a healthy diet and working out regularly can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Lack of physical exercise
Data from several studies have suggested that regular physical activity substantially reduces the risk of dementia. Physical exercise is also beneficial for your heart, weight, blood pressure, sugar levels, and mental wellbeing. You can see how abnormalities in some of these are independent risk factors for dementia, which makes exercise extremely important. Experts recommend doing at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.
Lower education levels
Studies have shown that people with lower education levels (especially in their early life) are associated with a higher risk for dementia in the future. Additionally, not staying mentally active is also a risk factor for dementia. Therefore, mentally challenging and engaging activities such as painting and reading should be pursued as they keep the mind from losing its touch.
Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption
Alcoholism is a common risk factor for many health conditions and behavioral disorders. It can also lead to a higher risk of dementia. Most experts recommend limiting drinking to less than 2 times a day. Smoking cigarettes is also associated with a higher incidence of dementia. And with smoking, it’s never too late — stopping at any age can improve your health.
Hearing loss makes it difficult to interact with others and affects cognition negatively. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment have been shown to be at a higher risk of developing dementia in several studies. Therefore, using hearing aids and getting early treatment for hearing disorders may reduce your risk of developing dementia.