Dementia Prevention: What Can You Do To Protect Yourself From Dementia?
There is, as yet, no cure or proven preventative measure for dementia; the causes of which are not fully understood themselves. The disease is a mixture of genetic and environmental factors culminating in the symptoms of memory loss and difficulty with thinking or problem solving.
So, is dementia prevention even possible?
Growing evidence seems to agree that, yes, there are measures that can be taken to lower your risk of developing dementia. Even though more extensive and broader based studies are necessary to fill the gaps in knowledge, medical professionals agree that there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your brain as you age. Our memory and old age Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Rafael Euba, says: “It’s becoming increasingly evident that whilst there is no clear or certain way to prevent dementia, specific lifestyle factors are likely to contribute to an increased risk of developing the disease. Addressing these factors, particularly during midlife, can lessen the chance of developing dementia as we age”.
Today nearly 50 million people worldwide have dementia. This figure is likely to increase three-fold over the next 30 years. And whilst dementia seems to be accepted generally as an inevitable part of ageing, this is not the case. Steps can be taken to reduce the number of dementia cases and delay the onset of the disease.
What are the risk factors for developing dementia?
- Age – as you get older you are more likely to develop dementia. It affects mainly those aged 65 and over. Around one in 14 people in this age group have the disease. However, dementia isn’t, and doesn’t have to be, an inevitable symptom of getting older.
- Alcohol – excessive consumption of alcohol is toxic to brain tissue and reduces the amount of white matter (which transmits signals to the brain) and creates a lack of vitamin B1. Both deficiencies are linked to memory disorders. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the growth of new brain cells. The advice from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) suggests that moderate alcohol is fine but should be kept within recommended limits.
- Smoking – smokers have a 45% greater risk of developing dementia than non-smokers! Currently the WHO (World Health Organisation) believes that 14% of Alzheimer’s cases can be attributed to smoking alone.
- Loneliness – research has found that feeling alone and experiencing social isolation leads to a greater risk of developing dementia.
- Hearing loss – studies have shown a link between hearing loss and dementia. Why this link occurs is undetermined, but it is thought that the extra energy used to decipher sounds could divert resources away from the brain. In addition, hearing loss can lead to social isolation, as above.
- Untreated depression – Depression is sometimes associated with dementia, although the relationship between both is complex, so it’s not always possible to tell which came first. If you think you might have symptoms of depression, take our depression self-assessment.
- High blood pressure/hypertension – thickening of the arteries means a lack of oxygen to the brain, damaging brain cells and causing memory issues.
- Obesity – as above, obesity can cause high blood pressure and diabetes.
According to a report in July 2017 from the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care, there are steps that you can take to reduce your risk of developing dementia. Looking at nine different lifestyle factors, the report concludes that in theory as many as 35% of dementia cases could be prevented overall.
To reduce risk and help prevent yourself from developing the disease you should address these issues as early as possible, especially during mid-life. It is widely believed that dementia is the “terminal” stage of a brain pathology that can be traced back many years.
What can I do to reduce my risk of developing dementia?
- Eat a healthy diet – as the old adage stats; ‘you are what you eat’! Cutting out processed, refined foods, eating plenty of nutritious fruit, vegetables, clean protein and good carbs along with essential healthy fats will improve cardiovascular health, help with blood circulation and prevent hypertension and obesity.
- Maintain a healthy weight – keeping off the pounds will ensure that your circulatory system is in good health and oxygen flows well around the body, including the brain.
- Exercise regularly – exercise is one of the best measures you can take to protect yourself from dementia. It is believed that, overall, regular aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by up to 30% – even in people who begin exercise regimes in mid-life. 20-30 minutes several times a week can help reduce the decline in size of the hippocampus, build muscle and improve memory and processing.
- Keep alcohol to a moderate level
- Stop smoking
- Check blood pressure regularly
- Stay active socially – make plans with friends and family, join groups, play a sport. Even engaging on social media can stave off loneliness.
Research in dementia causes, symptoms and a potential cure is on-going. In the meantime, there is enough evidence to suggest that taking certain steps can help prevent the risk of developing dementia. Small lifestyle changes can make all the difference and protect you from a crippling disease that steals your quality of life.
For more information about dementia (symptoms, statistics and treatments) read our blog “Everything You Need to Know About Dementia”.
If you would like to speak to Dr Euba regarding concerns about yourself or a loved one, please contact us. Through our Memory Clinic, The London Psychiatry Centre works with patients and their loved ones to thoroughly investigate any symptoms and provide the right set of interventions, fast. For a consultation call 020 7580 4224.