4 Dementia Risk Factors (You Can Actually Change)

Heavy alcohol use can increase dementia risk

The various forms of dementia affect our memory, our ability to think and communicate and sometimes our ability to perform basic, everyday tasks. While there’s nothing we can do about some risk factors – like age and genetics – there are other risk factors that we can control. Here are four of them, plus tips to improve the odds of keeping dementia at bay.

Heavy Alcohol Use
Moderate drinking might help reduce dementia risk, but heavy drinking can increase the risk. What’s considered “heavy”? That’s a conversation best left to you and your doctor, but keep in mind that the recommended guidelines are no more than one drink per day for women. It’s the same for men older than 65, but men younger than 65 can have a maximum of two drinks per day.

If you drink more than you should, here are some ideas to help you cut back: choose alcohol-free days during the week, don’t keep alcohol in the house, and keep a diary of how much you drink. (You might be surprised to learn how much you really consume!)

Cardiovascular Risk Factors
These are things that increase your risk of heart problems and stroke. Cardiovascular risk factors include high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, buildup of fats in your artery walls (atherosclerosis) and obesity are cardiovascular risk factors you can do something about. Diet, exercise and possibly medicine will not only reduce your risk of a cardiovascular event, they can help protect your brain from the ravages of dementia.

Researchers don’t fully understand the depression-dementia connection, but they suspect that having depression late in life could be a sign of developing dementia. Having depression doesn’t necessarily mean feeling sad. Especially in seniors, these are some red flags to watch for: loss of interest in hobbies, weight loss/loss of appetite, lack of motivation and energy, feelings of worthlessness, neglecting personal care. Depression is highly treatable, so don’t wait to talk to a doctor about these or any other changes in mental health.

Diabetes, especially poorly controlled diabetes, may increase the risk of a few types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Fortunately, we know a lot about how to get diabetes under control – and a lot of that is under your control. Your doctor can give you medication, but the rest is up to you. That means taking your medication as prescribed, checking your blood sugar levels, and following a healthy lifestyle. In some people, losing weight, eating right, and exercising can even reverse type 2 diabetes – benefitting your whole body and possibly your mind, too.

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