HEALTH

More than 50 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide could be liv­ing with de­men­tia, with the fig­ure es­ti­mated to touch 75m by 2030. Yet, while there is no cure, sci­en­tific ev­i­dence shows there are sev­eral ways you can guard against it,

Friday - - CONTENTS - says David Cox

No need to pore over lengthy med­i­cal jour­nals – here’s a short list of seven ways to tackle three dif­fer­ent kinds of ail­ments.

1 WATCH YOUR WEIGHT Among the big­gest risk fac­tors for de­men­tia are di­a­betes and mid-life obe­sity, which can dou­ble your chances of de­men­tia at a later age. Links have also been found be­tween el­e­vated blood pres­sure, high choles­terol lev­els and the risk of de­men­tia, although these are not con­clu­sive. Mon­i­tor your weight and car­dio­vas­cu­lar health in mid­dle age. 2 DON’T SMOKE

The brain may be af­fected by the long-term con­se­quences of heavy smok­ing. Sci­en­tists have found smok­ing to in­crease the risk of cog­ni­tive de­cline in old age, with one study show­ing that mid­dle-aged peo­ple who smoked more than two packs a day more than dou­bled their risk of later-life de­men­tia.

3 KEEP AC­TIVE

Nu­mer­ous stud­ies have shown that reg­u­lar, vig­or­ous phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity – and in some cases, even mild ex­er­cise such as walk­ing – can pre­serve your fac­ul­ties in later life. Stay­ing ac­tive is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for the el­derly, with stud­ies find­ing that older in­di­vid­u­als who be­gan a reg­u­lar ex­er­cise pro­gramme ex­pe­ri­enced im­proved cog­ni­tive func­tion. How­ever, younger peo­ple should avoid sports where they are prone to re­peated head trau­mas, such as box­ing or even foot­ball. There is grow­ing ev­i­dence that even mod­er­ate trau­mas in­crease the risk of de­vel­op­ing cer­tain forms of de­men­tia.

4 COG­NI­TIVE TRAIN­ING

Peo­ple with more years of school and uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion are known to have a lower risk of de­men­tia, but there is ev­i­dence that ev­ery­one can re­duce their risk of de­men­tia through try­ing new things as they get older. Tak­ing up new hob­bies, learn­ing new skills and par­tak­ing in a daily in­tel­lec­tual ac­tiv­ity such as do­ing cross­word puz­zles are all thought to have neu­ro­pro­tec­tive ef­fects.

5 STAY SO­CIA­BLE

Main­tain­ing so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties as you get older, such as go­ing to var­i­ous ac­tiv­ity clubs or vol­un­teer­ing, has been found to have a pro­tec­tive ef­fect against de­men­tia. Stud­ies have shown that in­di­vid­u­als who main­tain a larger so­cial net­work into old age tend to have bet­ter cog­ni­tive func­tions and a re­duced risk of cog­ni­tive de­cline.

6 ADOPT THE MEDITER­RANEAN DIET

Sci­en­tists are still not com­pletely clear on how var­i­ous nu­tri­ents, vi­ta­mins and food groups af­fect your risk of de­men­tia. How­ever, there have been a few stud­ies fo­cus­ing on the Mediter­ranean diet - which con­sists of small amounts of meat, and an em­pha­sis on whole grains, fruits, veg­eta­bles, fish, nuts and olive oil - that sug­gest it can re­duce risk of de­men­tia, pos­si­bly by pre­vent­ing high blood pres­sure.

7 KEEP TO NOR­MAL SLEEP PAT­TERNS

Sleep dis­tur­bances, for ex­am­ple chronic in­som­nia, have been linked to in­creased risk for cog­ni­tive de­cline in later life. Tak­ing steps to deal with any sleep prob­lems could re­duce your chances of get­ting de­men­tia. How­ever sci­en­tists still don’t un­der­stand ex­actly how dis­turbed sleep may con­tribute to the con­di­tion, and whether cer­tain dys­func­tional sleep pat­terns pose more of a risk than oth­ers.

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