How can I prevent dementia?
My sister and I are caring for our mom, who has dementia. We are getting nervous and worried that we too will have this fate in our future. Is there anything we can do? Need a plan!
It is understandable why you are fearful. It is hard to watch the difficulties that dementia brings to an individual and a family.
Research is underway to get a better understanding of what some of the risk factors are, as well as the lifestyle choices that seem to support better outcomes for brain health. It is important to realize that this is not easy research and that there are many factors at play.
Researchers are working hard to figure out what increases or decreases a given person’s chances of getting the disease. There are several risk factors; these include how one lives their life, genetics, age and the environment.
Like many diseases, the importance of each of these risk factors is different for different people. We know that the disease process begins in the brain before we are able to see the symptoms of it, according to Dr. Uri Wolf, a geriatric psychiatrist at Baycrest.
There is also an emerging body of work that supports the belief that high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol puts an individual at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Eighty per cent of people with cardiovascular disease also have Alzheimer’s. There seems to be something in that connection.
Exercise appears to play an important role in lowering the risk of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. Increased oxygen and blood flow as a result of exercising are likely the way that this helps the brain. A study of older adults who exercised aerobically demonstrated that these individuals improved their ability to remember past events, daydream and also think ahead to the future.
The other part of the brain that showed improvement from exercise is the region associated with planning and organizing. This is the area of the brain responsible for what we call “executive function.”
Diet is known to impact and relate to many disease outcomes, but the idea of heart and “brain healthy” eating is now also encouraged and supported by research. A diet that minimizes hypertension is one that has been shown in studies to be helpful. In this type of diet, people are encouraged to eat a lot of vegetables, as well as fruit and low-fat dairy products. This diet also discourages sugar and fatty foods. The now well-publicized Mediterranean diet is one that focuses on whole grains, fish, nuts and oils, with minimal consumption of red meat. These diets are considered healthy and can help protect the brain from diseases such as dementia.
Being connected to others socially seems to also play an important part in ensuring your brain stays healthy. Researchers are not clear on why this is, but the mental stimulation associated with socializing appears to help the nerve connections in the brain. Being engaged with others in a social manner and staying mentally active has a positive impact on the brain.
Another emerging factor for brain health is the link between head trauma and dementia. Individuals with a history of head injuries are more likely to develop dementia. Research continues in this area, but preventing head trauma means making sure that you are protected with a seat belt, that you use helmets for sports and do all that you can to prevent falls that can injure your head. Making sure your home is fall-proofed is a good start.
Being connected to others socially seems to also play an important part in ensuring your brain stays healthy. Researchers are not clear on why this is
Risk for dementia depends on lifestyle, genetics, age and the environment, Nira Rittenberg writes.