3 Steps to Prevent Dementia
Perhaps the biggest fear I hear about from subscribers is dementia. We all know that, someday, our bodies will stop working—but nothing is quite so scary as losing bits and pieces of your mind. We’ve all seen it happen to people we’re close to, and there isn’t a more frightening specter. However, most people never learn that dementia is something you can control. Of course, genetics and disease can play a huge role. But just as important is how you live, how you think, and where you are. Today, I want to give you three steps you can take to secure and ensure your independence, prevent dementia, and live a full, alert life, your whole life.
Dementia Is On The Decline
Believe it or not, dementia is actually already on retreat. A recently published study just released data showing that dementia affected 11.6% of adults 65 and older in 2000. But, in 2012, that number dropped to 8.8%.
That correlates to 1 million fewer people with dementia, compared with what the number would have been at 2000 rates. That’s a huge decline that’s vastly improved the lives of millions of people, when you include friends and family amongst those who suffer when a loved one experiences cognitive loss.
There are lots of possible reasons for that drop in dementia rates. But the study’s authors believe that one catalyst stands out from the rest: Education.
In 2000, the average number of years of education for the survey participants was 11.8—just under a full high school education. By 2012, the number rose to 12.7—with the average participant completing high school, and attending some college.
An increase in education correlates with plenty of other things—including income, access to health care, and even whether or not you get married.
And while all of those factors matter, there’s one particular byproduct of education that stands out in how it directly effects your brain. Which brings us to the first key in beating dementia.
1. Create Those Synapses
Learning, especially learning complex concepts, increases the number of synapses—the points of connection between the neurons in your brain. Every new thought you have creates new connections between your neurons.
And complex thoughts create complex connections.
The most amazing thing about synapses is they never go away. Sometimes they may get dusty when they haven’t been used in awhile, but once a connection is established, it’s there for life.
That’s why—even 40 or 50 years after school—we can still see the effects of education on dementia rates.
But you don’t have to stop learning when you leave school. Indeed, there’s plenty of research out there which shows that learning decreases your risk of dementia, no matter when or where you do it.
For example, one study looked at those who took up a second language. And, whether the study participants were 11 or in their 70s, their verbal and cognitive skills were much better than baseline intelligence would suggest.
Simply put, learning a second language increased brain function.
Many people find the same effects from learning to play an instrument—which, in many ways, is also like learning another language.
But it needn’t be anything as academic. Learning a new skill can have the same effect.
The important thing is trying something new. Things that you’re already good at are already hardwired in your head. Practicing them doesn’t give you any new neural connections.
But learning something new—no matter what—forces your brain to create new pathways. It’s just like exercising a muscle—you’re growing your brain.
So make a commitment, today, to always keep learning. Think about something that’s always interested you, and take a class, or find a mentor, or practice alongside instructional YouTube videos.
Just keep learning. Your brain is much less likely to decline, as long as it’s always improving.
2. Eat With Your Head In Mind!
Your brain, like every other part of your body, depends on nutrients to thrive.
But too often, people don’t think about how nutrients affect their minds.
If you want to avoid cognitive impairment, you can’t afford to neglect what you feed your body.
Omega-3 fatty acids—like those found in fish oil—are great for greasing the wheels of your brain, and helping everything function smoothly.
B vitamins like B12 and niacin are also key nutrients for cognitive function. You can find them in foods like grass-fed beef, shellfish, turkey, fish, eggs, and chicken. Peanuts and mushrooms are also chock-full of B vitamins.
Vitamin D3 is essential for a healthy brain, and many people living in North America are low in it. That’s because the sun is the best source for Vitamin D3, but we don’t get enough sun—and, during winter months, the sun is so low to the horizon, most ultraviolet B (the kind of rays which allow you to create vitamin D3) is filtered out of the sunlight before it reaches us.
So make sure you drink your vitamin D-fortified milk. Go for a sun-drenched walk once a day—especially when it’s not winter.
And, for all of these nutrients, take supplements if you don’t think you’re getting enough naturally. If you have any doubts, get a nutritional screen performed by your doctor, to see where you might be falling short.
Or just go straight to the supplements. Because you’re not going to get too much vitamin B, D, or omega-3s from diet alone.
3. Get Those Zzzs.
Your body uses the time you sleep to clean out your brain—literally. During sleep, your brain shrinks a bit, creating the space for a rejuvenating wash, which clears away plaque in the brain.
When too much plaque builds up, it gums up the works. That’s exactly what happens with Alzheimer’s.
So don’t think of sleep as a way to beat back extreme fatigue. Think of sleep as a chance for your body to clean the gunk that builds up during regular neural activity.
Too little sleep leaves damaging detritus behind. And if you are chronically getting too little sleep, the effects build up over time—and can turn into dementia.
So don’t sleep just enough to avoid feeling drowsy during the day. Get a solid 7-8 hours every night, so your body can perform its essential functions and give you a spiffy clean brain every morning.
If you have trouble getting enough sleep, make sure you practice good sleep hygiene. Keep your bedroom just for sleeping, avoid computer, TV, and phone screens at least an hour before bed, and sleep in a dark room.
Follow all these steps, and you’ve created the best conditions for avoiding dementia, at any and every age.
You don’t have to live in fear of cognitive impairment. You don’t have to resign yourself to dementia just because your grandmother had it.
You can do something about it. And you should.
- Haiken, Melanie. Sleep ‘Detoxes’ The Brain, New Research Suggests. Forbes. Published Oct 18, 2013. Accessed Dec 23, 2016.
- Learning second language ‘slows brain ageing’. BBC. Published Jun 2, 2014. Accessed Dec 23, 2016.
- Jaffe, Ina. Dementia Risk Declines, And Education May Be One Reason Why. NPR. Published Nov 21, 2016. Accessed Dec 23, 2016.