What Can I Do to Lower My Risk for Dementia?
Keeping your mind active, eating healthy brain foods, staying physically active, getting quality sleep and staying socially connected are all important to cognitive health — and potentially can help to lower your risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form.
You should also quit smoking and reduce alcohol intake and manage chronic issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Keep an Active Mind
While not yet scientifically proven, it is believed that staying mentally stimulated and intellectually engaged in meaningful activities may help improve your ability to think and remember, and generally benefit your overall brain health. Consider learning new skills and hobbies, playing games, volunteering and reading more.
These stimulating activities, the theory goes, help our brain adapt better to some mental functions, and ultimately help compensate for changes in our brain related to the aging process. Cognitive training therapy focused on reasoning, memory and processing speed has been shown to improve mental function in healthy adults 65 and older. However, claims that doing crosswords and playing online “brain games” to improve cognitive function have very limited supporting scientific evidence.
Healthy eating means consuming lots of fruits and vegetable, whole grains, lean meats and fish, and low- or non-fat dairy. Studies show that people who follow this Mediterranean-style diet, which is also rich in healthy oils, nuts, seeds and fiber, have a lower incidence of dementia.
This is why scientists are testing a diet specifically developed for cognitive health called MIND, combining the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Early results suggest it helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, though more research and testing is needed.
Science is showing that continuing to stay physically active as we age is important and has a direct positive impact on our brain’s health and cognition. In particular, studies have found that exercising helps increase the size of one of the structures in our brain that is critical to memory and the ability to keep learning—by stimulating our brain’s capacity to maintain connections as well as make new ones.
Aerobic exercise — such as walking briskly, running, swimming and cycling — has also been found to have more impact than non-aerobic (anaerobic) exercises, such as toning, stretching and strength training. But don’t skip these types of exercise — they’re still necessary for our overall health.
Stay Socially Connected
Make a commitment to stay in touch with friends and family and participate in group programs and community activities. Though not yet scientifically proven to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s, studies indicate that keeping your brain socially active helps you stay engaged with your world and can help combat loneliness, as well as potentially reduce the risk of cognitive impairment.