4 ways to cut your risk

‘Many of the changes that can lead to de­men­tia hap­pen 10 or 15 years be­fore symp­toms ap­pear,’ says Dr Laura Phipps, ‘so look­ing af­ter your­self, par­tic­u­larly in mid life, is vi­tal. There’s a strong con­nec­tion be­tween de­men­tia and heart health – if the bloo

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Good Health -

1 GET HEART HEALTHY

Have your blood pres­sure and choles­terol checked reg­u­larly over the age of 40, es­pe­cially if you have a fam­ily his­tory of de­men­tia or car­dio­vas­cu­lar prob­lems. The largest-ever analysis of the links be­tween blood pres­sure and vas­cu­lar de­men­tia found that hav­ing high blood pres­sure be­tween the ages of 30 and 50 was as­so­ci­ated with a 62% higher risk of vas­cu­lar de­men­tia later in life.

2 START MOV­ING

More than 20% of Alzheimer’s cases are po­ten­tially pre­ventable just by be­com­ing more ac­tive, ac­cord­ing to a ma­jor study pub­lished in The Lancet. Another re­view found that peo­ple aged 55 to 80 who ex­er­cised reg­u­larly per­formed four times bet­ter on cog­ni­tive tests than couch pota­toes. Ex­er­cise may even af­fect the size of your brain – one study found that peo­ple with a good level of fit­ness in their 40s had larger brains 20 years on than those who were un­fit. As well as in­creas­ing blood flow to the brain, ex­er­cise may also gen­er­ate chem­i­cal changes in the brain that may be neu­ro­pro­tec­tive.

The lat­est re­search has found that

ex­er­cise may also be help­ful for peo­ple who al­ready have mem­ory and think­ing prob­lems. When a group of peo­ple with vas­cu­lar de­men­tia did an hour’s ex­er­cise three times a week for six months, their over­all think­ing skills im­proved.

3 USE IT OR LOSE IT

Peo­ple with a higher level of ed­u­ca­tion and more men­tally de­mand­ing oc­cu­pa­tions seem to have a lower risk of de­men­tia. Learn­ing a lan­guage, tack­ling a new skill or chal­leng­ing your brain with puz­zles or cross­words may also be pro­tec­tive as they stim­u­late the con­struc­tion of new neu­ral path­ways. In one US study, a group of na­tive English speak­ers learnt Chi­nese for six weeks. MRI scans taken be­fore and af­ter showed they had a more con­nected brain net­work af­ter the lan­guage study, com­pared to a con­trol group. In a re­view of 22 stud­ies, peo­ple with high lev­els of men­tal ac­tiv­ity had a 46% lower risk of de­men­tia than those with lower lev­els.

4 TRAIN YOUR BRAIN

A com­puter brain-train­ing pro­gram could re­duce the num­ber of cases of de­men­tia and cog­ni­tive de­cline over a decade by a third, ac­cord­ing to a study at the Univer­sity of South Florida. When the AC­TIVE study tested sev­eral dif­fer­ent types of brain train­ing in nearly 3,000 healthy older adults, they found a 33% re­duced risk of cases of cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment or de­men­tia. Other re­searchers from King’s Col­lege Lon­don have de­signed on­line games to help im­prove rea­son­ing and prob­lem-solv­ing. They found that play­ing the games for around 10 min­utes a day im­proved mem­ory and rea­son­ing in ev­ery­day life. You can take part in their lat­est study at pro­tect­study.org.uk.

Ex­er­cise boosts blood flow to the brain

Start early: solv­ing puz­zles helps cre­ate new neu­ral path­ways

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