How To Prevent Dementia?

How To Prevent Dementia?
How To Prevent Dementia DCS

Preventing dementia is a common concern for many people, especially those with loved ones who have the disease. While there are over 100 different types of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, Lewy body dementia, and vascular dementia, there are lifestyle choices that can help decrease the risk of developing dementia. Researchers believe that brain changes associated with dementia can start as early as 20 years before symptoms appear, so taking action to preserve cardiovascular health is crucial. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and following a balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help prevent cardiovascular diseases that contribute to dementia.

Age and genetics are risk factors that cannot be changed, but other risk factors like hearing loss, untreated depression, social isolation, and a sedentary lifestyle can be modified. Addressing hearing loss with hearing aids and seeking treatment for depression are important steps. Engaging in regular physical activity, even through activities like walking, cycling, or dancing, can significantly reduce the risk of dementia. It's also essential to limit alcohol consumption to moderate levels and avoid heavy drinking, as excessive alcohol consumption can lead to dementia.

It's important to note that preventing dementia does not mean eliminating the risk entirely, but rather decreasing the likelihood. Making these lifestyle choices can help delay or slow down the progression of the disease. While dementia prevention is not a guarantee, taking proactive steps to improve cardiovascular health and overall well-being can have a positive impact on brain health.

Today's topic is how to prevent dementia. Family members caring for a family member with dementia often ask me this question frequently Many worry that their children or grandchildren may develop this terrible disease.

What is Dementia? What are the Different Types of Dementia?

Lets first review what is dementia? This is an umbrella term for a variety of conditions that affect memory, causes difficulty with thinking and reasoning skills, and the inability to function at work and life activities without a struggle or without requiring some help.

Before we address how to prevent dementia, it's important to note here that there are over 100 different types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. This is associated with a sticky protein buildup on the surface of the brain that is described as tangles.

The second most common dementia is Lewy Body dementia. I’ve done a podcast on Lewy Body dementia. I’ll just touch briefly on this form of dementia. It is also a dementia that has a build of proteins in the white matter in different regions of the brain.

Vascular dementia is the third most common type of dementia.

It is the result of plaque buildup in our arteries. This build up causes narrowing of the arteries that supply blood flow to the brain. The good news about vascular dementia is that it is the most preventable type of dementia. You will hear doctors tell you that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain. When it comes to vascular dementia that is so true.

As we discuss how to prevent dementia, I want to make you aware that a person can develop more that one type of dementia. It has been found during autopsies that an individual that has Alzheimer’s as well as a type of vascular dementia.

As I have covered, there are over 100 different dementias, and a person can develop more than one type of dementia. This is called mixed dementia.

Start a Dementia Prevention Program Today

So, as we discuss dementia prevention, I recommend to my clients, always prepare to develop the disease and make lifestyle choices to prevent developing dementia.

At the present time there is no way to prevent all types of dementia as, Scientists are still investigating how the condition develops.

The good news is there is sufficient evidence that making healthy lifestyle choices can help you decrease your risk of developing dementia as you age.

Brain changes can start decades before dementia symptoms appear. Researchers believe that dementia starts a long as 20 years before we see the signs and symptoms of dementia. The earlier you begin preserving your cardiovascular health, the better for your brain.

There’s a huge benefit to improving your blood vessel health. It helps you avoid stroke, heart attack and other serious diseases.

I want to introduce the risk factors for developing dementia and then I am going to break those risk factors based on the conditions that may cause dementia.

Risk Factors for Developing Dementia

Risk factors are things that increase your likelihood of developing a condition, such as dementia. A risk factor includes, environmental, genetics and lifestyle choices.

I d like tell you there are some dementia risk factors that are difficult or impossible to change.

These include:

Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to develop dementia. As I have mentioned many times before, dementia is not a natural part of ageing. We are seeing individuals over 100 yrs. of age, still work and have incredible memories. So, lets dispel the myth that dementia is a normal part of aging.

Another risk factor is your genetics. That does not mean that genetics cause dementia. There are some genetic factors involved in some less common types of dementia. I address this topic in detail in my Is Dementia Hereditary lesson in this series.

Remember dementia usually develops because of a combination of genes, "environmental" factors, and lifestyle choices, such as smoking, drinking excessively or living a sedentary lifestyle.

Another risk factor that seems to contribute to the development of dementia is having a lower level of education.

That does not mean those with college educations have less risk of developing dementia. The key to prevention is to learn something new and different, as often as you can. It is about creating new connections between the brain cells. Also called neural pathways. Getting out of your comfort zone and learning something new and different creates those new pathways.

I have a list of other risk factors may also be important.

These include:

Hearing loss. A research study in 2020 suggests that hearing loss causes dementia. In fact it is believed that 8% of dementia cases are caused by hearing loss. There is a study being conducted now that is trying to determine of hearing aides whether the use of hearing aids can potentially reduce brain aging and the risk of dementia. The study is to be concluded by 2023.

I’m looking forward to the results. So many seniors suffer from hearing loss. I have learned over my 50 yrs. of nursing, that so many seniors just don’t want to wear hearing aids. Many see them as for OLD PEOPLE. I think present technology and making the hearing aides so small now, this will overcome that objection to wearing them.

If this study does determine that hearing aids prevent dementia, that could be a deal breaker for the vain senior that does not want to be perceived as old.

Another risk factor is untreated depression, loneliness or social isolation

A sedentary lifestyle, such as sitting for most of the day is another risk factor may contribute to developing dementia

The studies concluded that by modifying our risk factors we are able to change our risk of preventing dementia by around a third. Wow that substantial. This is the reason why I recommend that you live as though you are going to develop dementia. Just making a few changes can prevent or at least delay the progression of the disease.

I've discussed the risk factors that can contribute to developing dementia.

Dementia Risk Factors Based On a Cause

As I mentioned earlier, Experts agree that what's good for your heart is also good for your brain.

Healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart attacks. These are risk factors that I previously discussed in the beginning in this lesson. Cardiovascular diseases are risk factors for developing Alzheimer's dementia and vascular dementia (the 2 most common types of dementia).

This means you can reduce your risk of developing dementia by:

  • Eating a well balanced diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, within recommended limits. A study that surprised me is one that shows that non-drinkers are more likely to develop dementia than a person that drinks in moderation.

My first response was, oh I guess that I need to start drinking. As an adult child of an alcoholic, I was never a drinker. I don’t recommend that you start drinking if you have never been a drinker before.

And those recovering from alcoholism should continue to work their program and avoid alcohol.

For those that want to avoid cardiovascular disease and vascular dementia and smoke, you just have to work to stop smoking.

I understand it is not easy. If you want to avoid strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases that lead to dementia, it will be worth it.

Modern medicine has discovered breathing techniques as well as medications to help keep your blood pressure within a normal healthy range. Thus decreasing your chances of preventing dementia.

It is estimated that one in three cases of dementia is preventable. You can’t do anything right now to stop or reverse the underlying mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, you can do something about high blood pressure and vascular disease risk factors.

Diet and Dementia

If you eat a diet a diet that's high in processed foods and saturated fat, salt and sugar, and low in fiber, you are at risk for developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, becoming overweight or obese, and type 2 diabetes.

The key to dementia prevention is lifestyle choices that include eating a healthy, balanced diet. Doctors recommend following the Mediterranean diet. It is rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and unsaturated fats.

Which leads me to how your weight can put you at risk for developing a type of dementia.

When you are overweight or obese, this can increase your blood pressure and the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Alzheimer’s disease has been called the third type of diabetes. There is a strong correlation between the insulin resistances in the body lead to Type 2 diabetes. The insulin resistance in the brain can lead to the protein buildup and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease.

To decrease your chances of dementia is the check your weight and keep it in a healthy range. For those that are overweight, just losing 5 to 10% of the extra weight can decrease the risk. As we age, many of us struggle to keep our weight in a healthy range. Its not easy. I take one day at a time. I recommend that you have a discussion with your doctor on your weight. Medicare may cover a consult with a dietician or attend diabetes classes to learn what you can do to reach a healthy weight.

Dementia Prevention Includes Exercise

A sedentary lifestyle is another risk factor that contributes to developing dementia.

One of the most important dementia prevention strategies is exercise. This is a strategy that we can control

The lack of regular physical activity can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to becoming overweight or obese. That can lead to Type 2 diabetes. All of which are all linked to a higher risk of developing dementia.

Aging seniors that do not exercise are also more likely to have problems with memory or thinking. Also known as cognitive ability.

Getting the recommended amount of exercise in not as difficult to achieve as you might think. Just a 30-minute brisk walk five times a week can make a difference. If you don’t want to walk, try cycling or even dancing.

So many seniors sit more than they should. So try to get up and move around regularly. I make myself get up and take a walk outside or just around the house, every 2 or 3 hours. I park farther away for the store, to walk more, walk up escalators and try walking around when I'm on the phone. Remember, you can get those 30 minutes a day, doing 10 minutes at a time. Make an effort everyday to get moving more.

Dementia Prevention Strategy- Drink in Moderation

Another dementia prevention strategy is to drink alcohol in moderation.

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol increases your risk of cardiovascular diseases and some cancers. Excessive amounts of alcohol are as damaging to your nervous system, including your brain.

Heavy drinking has been strongly linked to developing dementia. Alcohol dementia is real. It is reversible if it drinking is stopped early in the disease process. The nurse in me has to remind those that want to quit drinking, do it with the support of a professional. Your body becomes adjusted to your intake. If you stop suddenly, withdrawal can occur. I have seen many in DT’s and it’s not pretty.

Stop Smoking To Prevent Dementia

The next lifestyle choice that affects developing dementia is smoking.

Smoking causes your arteries to become stiff and narrow. This can cause your blood pressure to rise beyond healthy parameters. Smoking also increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as several types of cancer.

I recommend that you seek help to quit if you smoke. There are many programs out there that can help you be successful.

Untreated Depression is linked to Dementia

I mentioned earlier that untreated depression lead to dementia. There is a complex relationship between dementia and depression.

There are many factors that play a part in that dynamic. Untreated depression affects an individual’s ability to be social and engage in mentally and physically stimulating activities.

For those that have an aging senior in our life, depression and apathy, lack of interest in life can be one of the first signs of dementia itself.

If you're concerned that you, or a relative, or a friend may be depressed, suggest a visit to see your primary care MD. Ask to be tested for depression. They may refer you for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) , or a talk therapy.

For those of you that suffer from treatment resistant depression, please listen to my podcasts on ketamine. This is a breakthrough treatment helping those with depression, PTSD and addiction.

Have a Conversation with Your Doctor about Dementia Prevention

How to prevent dementia starts with having a discussion with your primary care MD and discussing if you are at a higher risk for developing certain health problems that would lead to developing dementia.

These would include:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney Disease
  • Stroke

If you're listening, and over age 65, you should learn about the symptoms of dementia to watch out for.

Making Healthy choices and lifestyle changes in your 30s and 40s may make a difference to decrease dementia risk. Talk to your doctor about strategies to guard against developing cardiovascular disease. Remember, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.