5 Steps You Can Take to Help Prevent Dementia

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Dementia includes numerous diseases that have different causes and outcomes. Some are curable, but others progressively worsen. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of progressive dementia, affects 10% of adults aged 65 and older.

You can take steps to prevent most types of dementia. At Arizona Institute of Neurology & Polysomnography, we can help by assessing your risk and building a customized plan that’s best for your health needs.

 

Here are five ways you can change your risk for dementia. As you read through them, you’ll see that they share a connection: They’re all affected by diet, exercise, and body weight.

Change your genetic tendencies

The influence of your genes depends on the type of genetic mutation. In very rare cases, a genetic mutation directly causes dementia.  One example is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, or familial Alzheimer’s disease.

Familial Alzheimer’s appears in your 40s or early 50s. It represents less than 1% of all cases of Alzheimer’s, but it’s directly caused by an uncommon genetic mutation. Unfortunately, you can’t prevent this genetic dementia, but you may change the outcome for other types of dementia.

Dementias that are more common — such as Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies — are caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. For better or worse, environmental variables like exposure to toxins and the foods you eat change the way your genes behave.

Simply put, genetics don’t always determine your destiny. You may have a genetic tendency, but you can counteract that influence and change the outcome through lifestyle choices that affect your overall health.

Protect your cardiovascular health

The health of your brain is linked to your cardiovascular health. If you have problems like atherosclerosis, or a buildup of cholesterol, in blood vessels serving your heart and body, chances are the same problem affects the vessels in your brain.

As atherosclerosis narrows blood vessels, it blocks blood flow and your brain loses oxygen and nutrients. Two types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, are significantly influenced by atherosclerosis.

When blood flow to your brain declines, you’re more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. By definition, vascular dementia is directly related to blood vessel health because it’s caused by impaired blood flow to your brain.

Atherosclerosis slowly develops over many years. As the condition advances but before you reach the tipping point where the full-blown disease is diagnosed, you can prevent the problem by changing the same lifestyle factors that help you avoid chronic disease: diet, exercise, and weight.

Prevent chronic disease

Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol influence dementia because they’re the top causes of cardiovascular disease. Type 2 diabetes is an especially big risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and other types of dementia.

Preventing these conditions by losing weight if needed and eating nutrient-rich foods also lowers your chance of developing dementia. Fat cells release a variety of biochemicals that affect brain function. It’s estimated that for every five-point increase in your BMI, your risk of dementia increases by 16-33%.

You need a balanced diet to lose weight and to provide the nutrients that support your brain while eliminating foods that damage your blood vessels. Following a Mediterranean diet may prevent dementia. This type of diet is based on fruits, vegetables, fish, and healthy unsaturated fats such as those found in nuts and olive oil.

Stay physically active

Exercise is essential for losing weight, lowering blood pressure, stabilizing blood sugar, and preventing chronic disease. But exercise also directly lowers your risk for dementia.

Moderate exercise is independently associated with maintaining a healthier brain and better cognitive abilities. Although any type of exercise is great, aerobic exercise is especially beneficial for preventing Alzheimer’s.

In older adults, physical activity may help preserve cognitive function despite changes in the brain that typically cause dementia. Even engaging in low-level activities like house cleaning can protect the brain.

Laboratory studies also suggest that exercise can change genetic expression associated with cognitive decline. As a result, exercise may help counteract a genetic tendency toward dementia.

Stay socially engaged

Adults who stay connected with other people have a lower risk of developing dementia. It’s also possible that social engagement may slow down dementia progression once it develops. Socialization helps to boost mental stimulation, strengthen your immune system, and protect your emotional health.

If you’d like personalized help for preventing dementia, call us at Arizona Institute of Neurology & Polysomnography or book an appointment online.

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