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10 Ways to Reduce Your Dementia Risk

couple looking at globe on beach
November 29, 2018
Lily Moran
  1. Eat Well
  2. Exercise smartly
  3. Socialize frequently
  4. Sleep enough
  5. Stress less
  6. Play intelligently
  7. Fast intermittently
  8. Prevent hearing loss
  9. Supplement wisely
  10. Avoid drugs linked to dementia

We all know the heartbreak that comes with dementia. Failure to recognize family and friends, inability to perform even simple tasks…it’s a dreadful, all too frequent reality for millions, especially among those over 65. But you can push back and work toward preventing dementia.

Not game over—game on

Like many other diseases, dementia was once considered an inevitable outcome of age. While it’s true that those over 65 have double the risk of developing dementia, lifestyle and behavioral changes can help us flourish, not founder, in our later years.

Here are our top 10 dementia prevention practices. They’re in no particular order because each one can play a leading role in fighting dementia.

1. Prevent dementia bite by bite

A healthy diet is the indispensible bedrock of disease prevention. I can’t over-emphasize—poor diet means poor health.

Here are some basic dietary rules to follow.

Do eat:

  • 100% whole grains
  • Complex carbohydrates
  • Aim for 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The more colors the better.
  • Healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil
  • Lean proteins such as legumes, chicken, and fish
  • Low glycemic fruit like berries

Don’t eat:

  • Processed foods
  • More than two servings of meat a day. Aim for one.
  • Refined carbohydrates like white or non-whole-grain bread, crackers, pasta, and pastries
  • Added sugars and high-fructose corn syrup

All of these forbidden foods are mainstays of the Standard American Diet—SAD for short. Sad is how you’ll feel if you eat that way on a regular basis, because the SAD is a surefire path to being overweight, obese, and diabetic with an increased likelihood of stroke, heart attack, and cancer.

What to do: Avoid eating like most Americans eat. Stick to the “Dos” and avoid, whenever possible, the “Don’ts”.

2. Get exercised against dementia

Exercise protects your brain by reducing bloodstream cortisol levels. That’s fine protection against:

  • Higher blood pressure
  • Higher blood glucose levels
  • Higher risk of vascular damage
  • Inhibited growth of nerve cells needed for memory

What to do: If you’re not physically and mentally active, your dementia risk increases. So just get moving. Every little bit of movement, even a brisk walk after lunch, gives you proven dementia protection. Aim for at least 10-15 minutes every day and gradually increase as you’re able.

3. Don’t be a stranger—socialize

It’s unclear whether social isolation is a symptom or a cause of dementia. But research tells us that it’s a certain risk factor.

The theory is that social isolation is like impaired hearing. Our brains need stimulation to thrive. What’s more stimulating than people you enjoy? Isolation wraps you in a dull, gray blanket. Good conversation, or any other way to be with others, even in silence, turns gray into brightly colored.

What to do: Be the life of the party. Bring company to you or get out and find it. Book clubs, churches or temples, museums, concerts, classes like cooking, tai chi, yoga…and there are any number of kind volunteers who can help you navigate mobility or transportation challenges.

4. Fight dementia in your sleep.

Our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls sleep deprivation a public health epidemic—people who have difficulty sleeping have an increased risk of developing dementia.

Why? When we sleep, our brains flush away amyloid plaque. This is like arterial plaque—nasty, sticky stuff that builds up and scrambles or obstructs huge numbers of vital communication pathways linking different parts of the brain. The longer it goes uncorrected, the more scrambled your brain becomes.

Amyloid plaque is a major presence in people with Alzheimer’s. Given the overlap between Alzheimer’s and dementia, we can assume the same dynamics are in play.

What to do: You have abundant choices when it comes to ensuring good sleep. Healthy diet and exercise top the list. Also recommended:

  • Setting a regular time for sleep
  • Stopping eating 3 – 4 hours before bed
  • Close laptops and turn off TVs and cell phones at least two hours before bedtime—the blue light from their screens depletes vital melatonin (the top sleep hormone)
  • Meditation

If you need extra help, there are plenty of safe, natural choices. Melatonin is a favorite go-to.  Start with 1 mg about 30-60 minutes before bedtime. If that doesn’t work after a few nights, try 2 or 3 mg.

5. Stress and dementia—the unhappy couple.

We don’t know with certainty that stress causes dementia. But we do know but it plays a critical role in opening the door to that and a long list of other health threats.

Stress tells the brain to release the hormone cortisol. When stress and its elevated cortisol levels are chronic, they team up to create dementia and other learning and memory problems.

So there’s a clear link: reduced stress means reduced likelihood of dementia.

But how, you ask, can I de-stress in this crazy world? 

What to do: Find hobbies, habits and activities that focus on the positive in your life. That may include reading, exercising, meditation, yoga, tai chi, massage, socializing with friends or family members, or therapy.

6. Think and play dementia away.

An active brain is a healthy brain. That’s why board games and card games, crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles, soduko, and the like are certified “brain-healthy” activities. They challenge different parts of your brain, demanding that you remember things both past and present—“What was that chemistry teacher’s name? What’s a 6-letter word that means unimportant?”

Incredibly, we now know that these “play” activities actually grow new brain cells, and protect existing ones. The old belief—that our brains inevitably shrink with age—is no more.

7. Think fasting for dementia prevention

No, I’m not suggesting you go days without food. But brain and body are working hard, around the clock, every minute of every day. When you work that hard, your body needs some time off.

So “intermittent fasting” is a great way to do just that. One way to do this is to only eat between the hours of noon and 8pm. That gives your digestive system and, in turn, your brain and body, a 16 hour break every day. Not a big ask in exchange for dementia prevention. And once you get used to it, you’ll rarely feel hungry – you may even drop a few unwanted pounds along the way.

There are many fasting variants online, which allow for juice or tea or vegetable broth. Ask your doctor what’s best for you.

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8. Sound dementia protection

We’re not sure as to the intricate chemistry, but the empirical evidence is convincing: even modest hearing impairment can signal increased dementia risk.

This outcome has historically been attributed to age. Yes, our hearing can decline as we grow older, but that’s not a guaranteed ticket to dementia.

One expert suggests there’s a “use it or lose it” dynamic.

The sounds of our world make constant demands on our brains, keeping them active and healthy. Less hearing means less of that stimulation, meaning an open door to dementia.

What to do: Get your hearing checked and get a hearing aid if needed. Today’s models are ingenious, all but invisible, and life-changing effective.

9. Take brainpower supplements

Help is here, in these natural, safe, and proven effective forms:

  • Curcumin
  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA)
  • B-vitamins, especially B12 and folate
  • Gingko
  • Rhodiola

Curcumin: If it only calmed and prevented inflammation, curcumin would get a big medal. But it also prevents a dangerous type of plaque that smothers brain cells, and relentlessly sweeps away toxins and free radicals.

What to do: Make curcumin your daily dementia fighter—1,500 mg over the course of the day. Get a formulation with enhanced bioavailability to ensure your body gets the most benefit.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) can prevent and reduce the progression of dementia. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an EFA that also protects against other dementia risk factors like, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

What to do: Up to 3,000 mg per day.  Make sure the combined EPA and DHA content is at least 1,000 mg.

B-vitamins.  B12 deficiency increases the risk of cognitive impairment, especially among people over 50. In fact, many cases of dementia are actually long-undiagnosed B12 deficiencies, which supplemental B12 can fix.

We don’t fully absorb B12 as we age. So even B-rich veggies—spinach, kale, broccoli, green peas, and others don’t pack the B punch of yesteryear.

What to do: 6 mcg of a B12 supplement daily.

Gingko. One of the oldest living trees we know is said to be 2,500 years old.  It’s a gingko tree.  Hmmm…do anti-aging secrets lurk within?

Of course. But the secret’s out. Gingko can:

  • Improve memory
  • Protect and improve mental processing speed
  • Relieve and reduce symptoms of dementia

Numerous studies confirm that ginkgo does that and more.

In a six-month study, patients over 50, with mild to moderate memory impairment, received a ginkgo supplement or a placebo.

Ginkgo boosted cognitive function—response speed on computerized tests was significantly better than in the placebo group.

Another study concluded that ginkgo appears to stabilize, and often improve, cognitive performance of dementia patients, and to support short-term memory.

There’s a library full of similar data.

What to do: Give ginkgo a try after consulting with your doctor. Dosages will vary depending on your health goals.

Rhodiola. From the cold Arctic regions to your local pharmacy comes this time-tested, healing herb. It’s earned its reputation as an adaptogen by helping the body adapt to and be rid of multiple threats, including those that can lead to dementia.

One placebo-controlled study gave rhodiola to healthy, young, night-duty physicians, then tested them for their cognitive performance and mental fatigue during their shift, including:

  • Associative thinking
  • Short-term memory
  • Calculation skills
  • Ability to concentrate
  • Speed of audio-visual perception

A significant improvement was found in the rhodiola group.

What to do: Different extracts of the rhodiola plant have been studied for efficacy in improving mental “sharpness.”  You and your doctor should determine the dosage best for you.

10. Avoid drugs linked to dementia

Recent (April, 2018) research linked prescription drugs called anticholinergics to an increased risk of future dementia. Anticholinergics block the brain’s production of acetylcholine – a chemical that’s vital to creating and storing memories. Variants of these drugs are prescribed to reduce cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s patients. But the common cold and allergy medicine, Benedryl, is also an anticholinergic. The study found “a robust association between some classes of anticholinergic drugs and future dementia.”

What to do: A long list of prescription meds have similar downsides. If you’re taking an anticholinergic drug (a quick web search can confirm), please make sure with your doctor that it’s not one that’s proved hazardous to your cognitive health. There are surely safer alternatives.

Fight the winning fight

We have an unprecedented amount of knowledge today, ready to help treat, and even better, prevent dementia. So for millions of people fighting the good fight against cognitive decline, there’s a bright new world of hope, and a fighting chance to delay, blunt, or prevent this dreaded disease.

References

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