Because there are so many causes of dementia, it makes finding a cure even more complicated. However, a new study by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care has shown that when people change their behavior to modify twelve risk factors, they are able to delay or prevent approximately 40% of dementia cases!
Below are the risk factors they identified which increase your risk of developing dementia as you age. This includes their original nine risk factors, plus three risk factors which have only been added by the Lancet Commission in their most recent report.
Original Nine Risk Factors for Dementia
Your risk of developing dementia near the end of your life goes up with the number of risk factors you have. Obviously, age is the greatest risk factor. However, some people manage to age without getting dementia. The people who do develop it are more likely to have experienced one or more of the following risk factors.
Less Education in Early Life
Hearing loss beginning in middle age
Hypertension and Obesity
Diabetes after Age 65
New Risk Factors Added by the Lancet Commission
Excessive Alcohol Intake beginning in mid-life
A Head Injury in mid-life or later
Exposure to air pollution in later life
How to Lower Your Dementia Risk
Obviously, we cannot go back and change the past. However, regardless of your age, it may not be too late to make lifestyle changes which will protect your mental function for years to come.
As a result of this research, there are obvious steps you can take throughout your life in order to reduce your risk of experiencing severe dementia in your later years
Continue to educate yourself throughout your lifetime. Even if you stopped your formal education at an early age, there is no reason you cannot take continuing education classes in your field, and learn new skills or improve old ones. Spread your wings and try something new. You do not have to limit yourself to the basic classes you took as a child. Take classes which interest you, including music lessons, foreign language classes, or anything you always wanted to learn. This is one way to keep your brain sharp for decades. Reading books and newspapers also helps to keep your brain sharp.
A good book to read in order to learn more about how to protect your brain from cognitive decline is:
Link: The Alzheimer's Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of your Life (Ad)
This book covers some important aspects of dementia prevention. This includes "how to strengthen memory and avoid everyday lapses. How to incorporate the top ten brain-protecting foods into your diet. How to cross-train your brain, exercising both the right and left hemisphere. And how to reduce stress, a risk factor for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s, through meditation and 11 other relaxation strategies."
In addition to educating yourself, reading, and learning new things, you will also want to try the following tips from the Lancet Commission in order to protect your brain from early dementia.
See a hearing specialist every few years, starting in middle age. Get a hearing aid, when and if it is needed. You can also reduce your risk of hearing loss by using ear protection when exposed to loud equipment or music.
Do not smoke or use any tobacco products. They mess with your brain! You should also avoid second-hand smoke. Ask guests who smoke to do so outside your home. (It should go without saying that you should also avoid illicit drugs if you want your brain to be fully functional in your later years.)
Get treatment for symptoms of depression or other mental illnesses. They will only complicate any symptoms of cognitive decline you experience later, and make cognitive issues harder to treat. Many mental illnesses, including depression, also make us more likely to isolate, which is another risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.
Develop your social connections and spend time with your friends, family, and favorite social groups regularly. Do not drop your relationships, especially the ones you enjoy. Positive friendships will enrich your life for years, and socializing is actually good for your brain. Just the act of having a conversation is great exercise for your brain. You constantly have to react to what other people say and almost instantly come up with an appropriate response. In a good conversation, you activate a variety of parts of your brain, including your ability to listen, speak, and look at the other person. Your brain is constantly picking up non-verbal clues, too. For example, it helps you determine if a comment is serious or meant as a joke. Depending on if you are sharing a meal with the other person, you may also activate your senses of taste and smell. What seems like a simple conversation can be one of the best brain exercises you can do.
Get exercise. Ideally, your regular physical exercise should include at least 30 minutes of walking, five or more times a week. However, it could also mean any exercise you enjoy, such as swimming, golf, bicycling or tennis. Moving helps move blood through your heart, brain and other organs. Any exercise which is good for your heart is also good for your brain. In addition to aerobic exercise, you should add weight training and stretching exercises to maintain healthy muscle tone.
Eat a healthy diet to reduce your risk of diabetes and obesity. Many people have found success following the Mediterranean Diet. Another variation of it, called The MIND diet (Ad) is highly recommended by experts. You should also avoid eating a lot of junk food, fried food, candy, pastries and similar low quality foods with little nutritional value.
Maintain a systolic blood pressure of 130 Hg or lower after the age of 40. Prolonged high blood pressure is bad for both your heart and your brain. If you cannot keep your blood pressure at a healthy level through diet and exercise, ask your doctor about prescribing blood pressure medication.
Keep alcohol use to a minimum, which is approximately three small drinks a week for women, and six for men. A little alcohol is acceptable. However, excessive drinking is a contributing factor for some types of dementia.
Avoid head injuries. Do not take physical risks which could cause you to have a concussion. Frequent concussions can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. It has been detected in the brains of many former professional football players, as well as other athletes. You cannot undo any damage you may have from past concussions. However, avoid future activities which could increase the damage.
Minimize your exposure to air pollution as much as possible. Take air quality into consideration when choosing where to live. Avoid close proximity to freeways and other major roadways. Exercise outdoors in the early morning or go to a gym on high pollution days, and avoid walking or jogging near freeways or busy streets. Cases of dementia are higher in communities with especially high pollution.
Continue to follow research about dementia, and take advantage of any new recommendations your doctors may have. There is a lot of current research on medications and treatments for the different types of dementia, and researchers are trying to find various ways to prevent it or, at the very least, slow it down.
One book which many people have found helpful is:
This book has been very useful to people who are serious about changing their lifestyle in order to reduce their risk of developing dementia.
While taking these steps may not guarantee that you will avoid dementia, they will go a long way towards eliminating as many causes as possible. If you have ever had an older relative with dementia, you know that is not how you want to spend the last few years of your life. Most of us will do anything possible to avoid it.
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Photo credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay; book covers from Amazon and GoodReads