Dementia can be a looming fear for many people as they grow older. It threatens to destroy your memories and you may fear being dependent on loved ones you no longer recognise.
At Home Care Assistance Newcastle we often witness how caring for a family member with dementia can be frustrating and heartbreaking. Family members may often ask themselves “How can I prevent myself from getting dementia?”
The World Health Organisation estimates 35.6 million people are living with dementia. This number is projected to double by 2030 and by 2050 there could possibly be over 106.9 million people will dementia.
Is dementia a ticking time bomb just waiting for you as you grow older? Not necessarily. As of now, there is no proven way to prevent dementia, however, there is support available through Government Funded Home Care Packages Newcastle. Certain risk factors like age and genetics can’t be changed, but research continues to find new methods that show promise in reducing the risk of dementia. The strategies below have been shown to reduce your risk of dementia. They can also be key reminders of how to enjoy your daily activities and live a healthy life.
What is Dementia?
Dementia Australia defines dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is not one specific disease. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s normal social or working life.
The early signs of dementia are very subtle and vague and may not be immediately obvious. Some common symptoms may include:
- Progressive and frequent memory loss
- Personality change
- Apathy and withdrawal
- Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks.
Common types of dementia include:
- Alzheimer’s disease. This is caused by plagues and tangles developing in the brain that interfere with normal brain functioning,
- Lewy body dementia. This is caused by abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein (Lewy bodies) in the brain.
- Frontotemporal disorder. This is caused when the brain continually loses nerve cells in the frontal lobes or temporal lobes, leading to loss of function in those areas.
- Vascular dementia. This is caused by restricted blood flow to the brain because of issues in the body’s circulatory system.
How to Prevent Dementia – 12 Strategies to Reduce Your Risk
The latest research from Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission has identified 12 modifiable risk factors that can reduce the risk of developing dementia.
1. Education and midlife and late-life cognitive stimulation
Higher childhood education levels and lifelong higher educational attainment reduce dementia risk. If you did not have these opportunities when you were younger, research indicates that it is never too late to start. Studies show that for adults over 65 years of age, travel, social outings, playing music, art, physical activity, reading, and speaking a second language, were associated with maintaining cognition.
Action Strategy: Make a goal to use your brain every day. Whether it is learning a new language or figuring out your new phone. The more you continue to use your brain, the healthier your brain stays.
2. Let your brain hear.
Hearing loss is associated with higher rates of dementia. A 6-year study found that those with a loss of hearing were 24% more likely to see a cognitive decline. Some possible suggestions as to why this happens are:
- Straining to hear can cause more stress in the brain. This leaves less room for forming memories.
- Hearing loss can lead to a decline in relationships. When you struggle to carry on a conversation you can become isolated which also harms your brain.
Action Strategy: Get your hearing checked. If you have hearing loss, discuss your options for a hearing aid or cochlear implant. Also, make sure that you keep your ear canals clean. A build-up of ear wax can limit hearing but is easily handled by a health professional.
3. Keep your brain safe.
One of the most obvious ways to prevent dementia is to prevent all forms of brain injury. Serious head trauma has been linked to a higher risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. A head injury that involves a loss of consciousness may have long term impacts on your brain health.
Action Strategy: Always wear a seatbelt to reduce your risk of head injury in case of a car accident. If you enjoy sports or bike riding, make sure you always use a proper helmet. For most seniors, head injuries will occur during a fall in the house. To keep you on your feet, take an afternoon to proactively reduce fall risks by removing any tripping hazards and adding better lighting.
Persistent midlife hypertension is associated with an increased risk of late-life dementia. Lifestyle changes and antihypertensive drugs can be beneficial in lowering blood pressure.
Action Strategy: Have your blood pressure checked by a health professional regularly. If you have high blood pressure, discuss steps to improve your heart health to lower your blood pressure. This can include losing loss, increasing physical activity as well as medications.
5. Physical inactivity, exercise, and fitness
Studies of physical activity are complex. Patterns of physical activity change with age, generation, and morbidity and are different across sex, social class, and cultures. Studies linking exercise levels and dementia suggest a complicated relationship with the potential for both risk reduction and reverse causation. Physical activity also helps prevent other health conditions linked to dementia including:
- High blood pressure
Action Strategy: Just do it. Start small but make sure you start. Add a small activity, depending on your level of physical fitness. This could be as simple as walking up and down a hallway a few times or as challenging as a 5-km hike with friends. Aim to fit 150 minutes of physical movement that gets your heart beating faster into each week.
6. Limit your brain’s exposure to alcohol.
Drinking alcohol can increase dementia risk. A study found that drinking more than 21 units per week is associated with a higher risk of developing dementia.
Action Strategy: Binge drinking is particularly hard on your brain. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can stop your neurons from re-growing. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to one glass of wine or other favourite drink. If you are concerned about your own drinking or a loved one’s, seek professional help from your doctor.
7. Weight control and obesity
Overweight is an emerging concern, given the changing BMI across the world’s ageing population. New evidence supports the relationship between increased BMI and dementia.
Action Strategy: Take an honest look at what you eat in a day. Is what you eat good for your brain? Consider adapting parts of the Mediterranean diet into your life or aim to replace one sugary food with whole food. For example, instead of eating a blueberry muffin, try a cup of fresh or frozen blueberries with a sprinkle of nuts or seeds.
Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for developing dementia. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can stop you from developing type 2 diabetes.
Action Strategy: Talk to your medical practitioner about ways you can change your lifestyle to reduce your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
The Alzheimer’s Association has found strong links between smoking and dementia. Smoking causes damage to your heart and blood vessels. Cigarette smoke can also cause swelling in your brain that is linked to dementia. Breathing in second-hand smoke can also have the same adverse outcomes as being a smoker.
Action Strategy: Smoking can be a lifelong habit, which makes it very difficult to quit. There are many programs that can be helpful. Talk to your doctor about the best option to help you quit.
Depression is considered a potential risk factor for dementia, but in later life, dementia might cause depression.
Action Strategy: There are many proven methods to treat depression. If you are feeling persistently sad or down, talk to your doctor about treatment methods to support you to get better.
11. Social contact
Social contact, now an accepted protective factor, enhances cognitive reserve or encourages beneficial behaviours, although isolation might also occur as part of the dementia prodrome. Several studies suggest that less social contact increases the risk of dementia. Although most people in mid and later life are married, by the time they reach older age, disproportionate numbers of women are widowed as they outlive their husbands, thus reducing their social contact. In these generations, marital status is therefore an important contributor to social engagement.
Action Strategy: Make healthy relationships a priority. Feeling safe and connected can improve your brain health so offer your love and time freely but also set limits on spending time with people who may be toxic.
12. Air Pollution
Like smoking, high levels of air pollution have been linked to increased risk of developing dementia. A 2019 systematic review synthesised observational studies, finding consistently increased risk of dementia from air pollution.
Action Strategy: If you like in an area with high levels of pollution, close your windows and use air conditioning to help filter the air. When exercising, avoid areas with high levels of traffic congestion or other industrial air pollutants.
Although there is no proven way to prevent dementia, these twelve strategies may help. You might also enjoy the benefits of a stronger, healthier body and improved relationships with your loved ones.