Dementia is commonly considered an inevitable part of growing older. In reality, many of the characteristic symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss and confusion, can be prevented, or diminished. Recently, Medical Daily spoke with Dr. Sharad P. Paul, a skin cancer surgeon, family physician, and author ofThe Genetics of Health on steps we can take to prevent dementia in both ourselves and our loved ones.
1. Stop Smoking
According to Paul, one of the most effective ways to lower your risk of dementia is to quit smoking. Statistics from Alzheimer’s Disease International show that smokers are 45 percent more likely to develop dementia than non-smokers. Even if you’ve been smoking for decades, The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation reported that quitting at any time can lower this risk, as current smokers always have a higher risk of dementia that past smokers.
2. Cut Down On Drinking
Along the same vein as quitting smoking, cutting down on your drinking can also reduce overall dementia risk.
“Ideally [drink] not more than 1-2 glasses a day, as more than 3 glasses can increase risk of high blood pressure. Having said that, moderate amounts may reduce the risk of strokes, and indeed, heart disease by reducing clots and opening blood vessels.” Paul told Medical Daily in an email. But if you don’t currently drink, don’t start for the sake of reported health benefits, he said.
3. Keep Active
Staying active as you age is also a great way to ward off dementia, and Paul explained that, although all physical activity is beneficial, certain movements have certain benefits.
For example, Paul told Medical Daily that “exerc[ises] that do all three aspects of human two-legged movement, i.e. Balance, Locomotion and Grasping, seem to have maximum benefit – tango, Celtic dancing, cycling, etc,” In addition, Paul explained that “exercises like yoga specifically reduce stress and lower blood pressure; Tai chi has been shown to improve balance.”
4. Eat Well
Once again, eating well is important for overall health no matter what, but according to Paul, an added benefit of following a traditional Mediterranean diet is that it may also reduce your dementia risk. This diet includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans, and cereal grains such as wheat and rice, along with minimal red meat and moderate wine and dairy.
Research shows that older people who eat a Mediterranean diet have improved brain volumes and function compared to those with other types of diets, which may explain the difference in dementia risk, Paul explained.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Getting more sleep may also reduce your risk of developing dementia. For example, according to UC Berkeley, individuals who get less sleep have higher concentrations of beta-amyloid, the protein that is believed to be a catalyst in Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most common forms of dementia. Of course, getting a better night’s rest is easier said than done.
“It is best to avoid sleeping pills,” advised Paul in his email. “Stress-reducing exercises like yoga help. Medication and mindfulness help. Specific techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy help improve sleep patterns. Of course, look at dietary triggers — avoid caffeine, processed and sugary foods in the evenings so that they don’t worsen sleeplessness.”
6. Learn A New Language
It may sound unconnected, but learning a new language can help to “work-out” your brain, and as a result leave it more resistant against dementia’s onset. According to Paul, this is because the process of learning and exploring a new language stimulates new nerve connections in the brain, which essentially helps to improve “neuronal highways.”
Unfortunately, there is a catch. Although learning a new language is beneficial as we get older, age also makes this task more difficult.
“As a child one finds it much easier to learn new languages as those parts of the brain that deal with languages are more attuned to developing new networks,” explained Paul. “As we get older, it becomes progressively more difficult, even if we still benefit.”
That’s why word challenges and puzzles like crosswords and sudoku help reduce dementia risk as they make us learn new words and skills.