11 Things You Can Do Now to Help Prevent Dementia Later
If you have a loved one with dementia, I’m sure you’ve thought, “how can I make sure that doesn’t happen to me?” Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that there’s no way to know...
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If you have a loved one with dementia, I’m sure you’ve thought, “h
ow can I make sure that doesn’t happen to me?” Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that there’s no way to know
whether you’ll end up with severe cognitive decline—it’s complicated thing, and is likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, some of which are beyond your control.
But the good news is there is a lot you can do, starting today, that will lessen your chances of developing dementia later in life. As an added bonus, these are things that will likely make you healthier and your
life better anyway, whether you develop dementia later or not.
Get regular exercise
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Regular exercise may be the single best thing you can do to prevent dementia. An overview of studies on the issue by the Alzheimer’s Society determined that exercise can reduce the risk of a person developing dementia by about 30%, and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease specifically by 45%. Not only that, keeping active aids in weight maintenance and reducing blood pressure, two other potential ways you can reduce your likelihood of developing dementia.
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There is a lot we don’t know about the interaction between food and Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia, but a healthier diet seems to be connected to decreasing the chances of developing them, maybe directly, or maybe because people who eat healthy are more likely to be maintaining a healthy weight have healthier hearts, two other factors correlated with dementia. The National Institute on Aging recommends “The MIND diet,” a variation on the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on plant-based foods linked to dementia reduction. As a bonus, the diet calls for one glass of wine a day.
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The list of bad outcomes from smoking cigarettes is nearly endless—heart disease, lung disease, stroke, bad breath—and it includes dementia. The World Health Organization estimates that 14% of total cases of dementia could be the result of smoking. A Finnish study found that people who smoked in midlife more than double their list of developing dementia 20 years later. So quit now. The list of reasons it’s a good idea to keep smoking really doesn’t exist (you don’t actually look that cool).
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Maintain a healthy weight
Maintain a healthy weight
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According to research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology obesity may be associated with an increased risk for developing dementia, regardless of whether someone is a smoker, has hypertension or diabetes, or carries the genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Other research suggests a link between high body weight variability in mid-life and dementia in later life, so keep the yo-yo dieting to a minimum.
Treat your depression
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It’s not fully understood how depression earlier in life affects the likelihood of developing dementia later in life, but there’s a definite correlation between the two: Early life depression has been associated with a two-to-four-fold increase in dementia risk. There’s reason to think treating depression earlier in life can prevent whatever biological mechanism links depression to dementia, but even if it doesn’t, taking depression seriously is good idea.
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It can be hard to maintain friendships as an adult, but doing so could help prevent dementia. Social isolation is strongly correlated with dementia—a study in the journal Neurology indicates social isolation was associated with a 1.26-fold increase in the risk of dementia, even without related problems like loneliness and depression.
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Reviews of the scientific literature on the association between alcohol use and dementia by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Alzheimer’s Disease International concluded that heavy drinkers and binge drinkers were more likely to develop dementia than moderate drinkers. You don’t have to quit drinking altogether, though: Some research shows moderate alcohol consumers are less likely to develop dementia than people who don’t drink at all. Whether this is due to some biological mechanism or the result of how “non-drinker” is defined by some studies is unclear, however.
Treat hearing loss
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If you have hearing loss, you’re more likely to develop dementia—unless you wear a hearing aid. The thinking is that not being able to hear can result in less cognitive stimulation, and lead to cognitive decline. According to a study in the Lancet, the data suggests hearing aid use is corrective—that is, the correlation isn’t because people who are more likely to develop dementia are also less likely to wear hearing aids. So make sure you wear a hearing aid.
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Wear a helmet and seatbelt
Wear a helmet and seatbelt
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While there’s no evidence that a single, mild traumatic brain injury necessarily leads to dementia, head injury is the third most common cause of dementia (behind infection and alcoholism) in people under 50 years old, and more head injuries are associated with a greater risk of dementia later on. So wear a seatbelt and a helmet when needed.
Take care of your teeth
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According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, tooth loss is a dementia risk factor too. Interestingly, the risk is not significant among people who wear dentures. No one is certain what accounts for the correlation between dental health and dementia, but it could be that difficulty chewing results in poor nutrition, or it might be that gum disease leads to both tooth loss and dementia, or it could be that poor dental health correlates with a lower socio-economic status, another dementia risk-factor. But no matter the cause, taking care of your teeth now could help to prevent dementia later.
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Remaining active as you age has been shown to prevent any number physical problems, and it looks like the same rule may apply to keeping mentally healthy as well. A study conducted at the Mayo Clinic concludes that signs of dementia are delayed in people whose careers are challenging and whose hobbies include strong intellectual pursuits, so don’t stop doing puzzles, reading, and taking classes.