ElisaRiva/Pixabay;used with permission.
Source: ElisaRiva/Pixabay;used with permission.

Safe to say, the older you get, the more you worry about dementia, both in yourself and in elderly loved ones. And with 47 million people worldwide suffering from dementia, a number that is expected to more than double by the year 2050, there is certainly cause for concern. But dementia is something that may be preventable, starting at a young age. A report published in July 2017 by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care reveals nine specific things you can do, right now, and even for your children, to help lower the risk or even help those who are already showing signs of dementia.

By reviewing all existing research, the international experts who wrote the Lancet report found that one in three cases of dementia are preventable by taking steps throughout life to eliminate risk factors. They were able to summarize all evidence-based research and provide the following advice, most of which is similar to most expert advice for living a long, healthy and happy life:

  • Pursue education, especially in early years. More education, at least through high school levels, builds more “cognitive reserve,” which can help preserve mental fitness and improve the ability to function even when there is evidence of brain disease and decline.
  • Participate in some sort of physical activity on a regular basis. Experts are not sure why, but those who continue to exercise as they age are less likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia.
  • Maintain social contact as you age. Avoid isolation and loneliness. Evidence shows that social isolation decreases brain activity, in turn increasing the risk of dementia.
  • Treat hearing loss. Even low levels of hearing loss have been found to contribute to cognitive decline.
  • Control hypertension. High blood pressure is a vascular risk factor associated with lower cognitive ability.
  • Avoid obesity, which can lead to diabetes and vascular disorders, which in turn lead to impaired cognition.
  • Quit smoking, if necessary. Smoking is linked to vascular heart disease, which can contribute to dementia, but cigarette smoke also contains neurotoxins, chemicals that can poison brain cells.
  • Resolve depression. Although there is debate as to whether depression is a symptom or a cause of dementia, there is evidence showing higher rates of dementia in those who experience depression in the ten years leading up to a diagnosis of dementia.
  • Maintain strict control of diabetes, if necessary. Problems with insulin delivery in the body may cause the brain to produce less insulin, which would interfere with the natural removal of amyloid, a sticky protein that can build up and become toxic to brain cells. Diabetes also causes inflammation and high blood glucose levels, both of which may contribute to decreased cognition.

For those who are already showing signs of dementia, particularly agitation and aggression, the researchers found evidence that social contact, group activity and other environmental, psychological and social interventions were more helpful than antipsychotic medical treatments that are often used to treat these symptoms. They also found that exercise and group cognitive stimulation therapy, a form of therapy that includes games and creative activities that stimulate the minds of people with mild to moderate dementia, can help improve cognitive abilities.

Other lifestyle factors, such as diet and alcohol use, may also affect the risk of developing dementia. Although these lifestyle factors were not considered in this report, the authors believe that following a Mediterranean-style diet that is low in animal products and includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and fish, and drinking no more than a moderate amount alcoholic beverages not only increases overall health prospects and life expectancy, but may also be important to maintaining cognitive skills as we age.

References

Livingston G, Sommerlad A, Orgeta V. et al. Dementia preventions, intervention, and care. The Lancet Commissions. July 20, 2017

http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(17)31363-6.pdf

Clare L, Wu Y-T, Teale JC, et al. Potentially modifiable lifestlyle factors, cognitive reserve, and cognitive function in later life: A cross-sectional study. PLOS Medicine. March 21, 2017;1-14.

http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1002259&type=printable

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