There’s no way to prevent dementia completely, but there's growing evidence showing it’s possible to significantly reduce the risks of developing a cognitive impairment during old age. If you or a loved one has an associated risk for dementia, following these lifestyle changes can help preserve brain health for as long as possible.
The majority of the illnesses that affect older people are attributed to a poor lifestyle. Your lifestyle plays a vital role in immunity, and experts at Harvard suggest boosting the immune system the natural way by leading a healthy lifestyle that’s good for brain health. Here are ways to do so:
There are many types of vices, but the top two for Americans (and also the most expensive) are smoking and alcohol.
These poor habits harm not only your finances but also your health. Cigarette smoking is associated with lung cancer, which according to the CDC, is the cause of about 80 to 90% of lung cancer deaths.
Meanwhile, alcohol has an almost immediate effect on the brain. It only takes 30 minutes after drinking that you experience difficulty in balance, memory lapses, and speech issues. The long-term health effects of alcohol are more debilitating.
If an older family relative has serious problems with alcohol and cigarette smoking, it's best to ask for help from a rehabilitation therapist. Quitting a harmful habit is challenging, but with the assistance of a professional, it's possible to do.
A balanced diet is critical to getting all the nutrients the brain needs. A diet full of leafy greens and less or zero trans fat is ideal.
If your diet consists of meaty meals and fewer fresh produce options, find ways to replace meat with vegetables. For example, instead of red meat, which is hard for the body to digest, tofu, tempeh, and mushrooms will give you nutritional benefits. There are recipes you can find online that teach you how to cook tofu or mushrooms to taste like meat.
Making smart choices in your food options also helps you keep your weight at a healthy limit, which lowers your risk for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and vascular dementia.
When you engage in physical activities, your brain releases endorphins, which are chemicals with many benefits. They put you in a better mood and sense of well-being and lower stress.
Exercise also improves blood circulation to the brain. A study on older people diagnosed with mild cognitive decline confirmed that doing aerobic exercise for one year decreased the stiffness of blood vessels in the neck area and improved blood circulation to the brain.
Any form of fitness, such as biking, brisk walking, yoga, or pilates, for at least 30 minutes will boost your brain. But before doing any exercise, consult your doctor for safety reasons.
Both brain training and brain games can positively impact brain health if done for a long time—it’s similar to training the muscles. Training your brain by accomplishing mentally stimulating tasks, such as solving a puzzle, drawing, reading books, or any activity that uses cognition, may help enhance overall brain functions.
There are also many systemized brain training programs, like BrainHQ or CogniFit, where you get to track the before and after results of your cognitive training and see areas of improvement.
Socializing is another activity that’s good for the brain and overall health. When you converse with people, you simultaneously use various cognitive functions, such as attention, logical thinking, abstract reasoning, executive function, and more. The more you socialize and communicate with others, the more engaged the brain is, making it an excellent mental exercise.
Start small conversations at home if you don’t go out as often to socialize. If you can also encourage older relatives to participate in social events, such as volunteering, group traveling, and classes in your local senior center, it will help them remain socially active.
Many mental health disorders are associated with dementia. Based on many studies, dementia and depression are connected, and being diagnosed with depression earlier in your life increases your risk of dementia when you get older.
So while you're at it, add taking care of your mental health to your lifestyle changes list. Eat healthily, go on walks, travel, do relaxing activities, and practice gratitude.
During sleep, the brain does its waste maintenance by clearing away toxic proteins that have accumulated during the time you’re awake. If you don’t sleep enough, this also means that there’s not enough time for the brain to flush the waste out into the blood.
Sleep deprivation increases the risk of many brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by an accident is another risk factor for dementia later in life. Make sure you protect your brain by reducing the instances of accidents. Since most accidents happen on the road, always buckle up every time you drive and avoid driving after drinking alcohol. If at home, prevent falls by ensuring it’s safe for older family members to walk around.
Heart diseases are linked with vascular dementia (VaD), a type caused by a blocked artery following a stroke attack. When the blood flow to the brain is cut off at the area where an artery is blocked, it can harm and kill the brain cells, resulting in dementia.
Therefore, if you or other members have a high risk for heart disease, pay attention to your heart health. Avoid smoking and eating foods with high cholesterol. Exercise regularly, preferably cardio exercises, such as jogging, running, and cycling, if your physical strength allows it.
Visit your doctor for a routine checkup at least once a year or as scheduled if you have an existing condition. Doing so helps you keep track of your overall health, progress of your treatment plan, and detect potential health problems early.
Your lifestyle consists of good and bad habits that influence your life and health on a day-to-day basis. Sticking to a positive lifestyle can lower your risk of dementia and other chronic diseases.
In a nutshell, a healthy body is something you decide to have and work hard for. Even if your family has a history of dementia, you make a choice to lead a healthy or detrimental lifestyle. You decide whether to eat a burger or a salad and exercise or skip the gym. All the important decisions you make daily impact your general well-being, so choose to make better decisions for yourself.
Read our article Could The Mediterranean Diet Reduce Dementia Risk? to learn more about the benefits of nutrition in brain health.
Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.