Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps reduce risk of dementia

There is an increased risk for dementia for those with a family history, but lifestyle choices also play a part. It should come as no surprise that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.

There are nearly 10 million new cases of dementia every year world wide. Dementia is an illness characterized by a deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from normal aging. Dementia is an umbrella for a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer’s. However, research indicates that modifiable risk factors can reduce your chance nearly in half of getting a form of dementia.

Alzheimer's Research

Dr. Laura Hughes, Clinical Neuropsychologist at Regional Health Rapid City Hospital, says, “By the time the problems show up, it’s a pretty advanced state. So really what we need to be doing is whenever we hit, however you define middle-age (maybe 40-ish– give or take a few years), we need to be doing all the modifiable risk factors. We need to be paying attention to our health, activity level, our sleep, our stress level. If you have depression get that treated, that can look like a dementia. So really the game is much earlier in life if we want to reduce the chances of developing a dementia of any kind in the future.”

According to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization, people can reduce their risk of dementia by getting vigorous exercise 3-4 times a week, not smoking, avoiding overuse of alcohol, controlling weight, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Make sure to get 7-8 hours of quality sleep. And when it comes to your brain power — you have to use it or lose it.

Hughes says, “Also staying cognitively active — so that doesn’t mean sudoku or crossword puzzles are going to prevent dementia, but it means use your brain. That can be volunteer work, staying active socially, learning new things, learning a new language, whatever, but use your brain if you want it to keep working.”

Dr. Hughes also notes that other conditions can mimic a memory disease, including hearing loss, side effects of medications, a high stress level, and busy lifestyle. And if you are at all concerned, get it checked out.

“The strongest recommendation that I have is go talk to your doctor because there are so many things that can affect what looks like a memory problem and you can rule those out and you can treat them if they exist. But there’s many things that affect your attention, your memory, your processing speed, and so on — so don’t be afraid of it go and see what can be treated and then see if there’s a problem,” says Hughes. 

Also remember to protect your head. Head injuries can increase the risk for the buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain that is seen in people with Alzheimer’s.

Click here for more information at the Alzheimer’s Association.

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