These everyday healthy habits just got healthier.
Is dementia actually preventable?
Forgetfulness might seem like an unavoidable part of aging, but you aren’t destined to dementia. In fact, there’s actually a lot you can do to prevent dementia. A Lancet Commissions report from 24 leading dementia researchers says 35 percent of dementia comes from preventable causes. Follow these steps and you could ward off a condition affecting about 47 million people worldwide.
1. Keep learning
Adults who don’t have at least a secondary school degree are at higher risk for developing dementia, according to the report. This could be because more education usually means a higher socioeconomic status, but it could have to do with learning itself. “Cognitive resilience in later life is likely to be enhanced by building brain reserve earlier in life through education and other intellectual stimulation,” write the study authors.
2. Check your hearing
After age 55, hearing loss is associated with higher risk of dementia. It’s probably not a cause—older adults are already at generally higher risk for both dementia and hearing loss—but fixing hearing could make cognitive loss easier. For one thing, dementia might be even more stressful for people who can’t hear. Plus, people might disengage socially when they have a hard time hearing, which could speed up any cognitive decline, say the researchers. Hearing loss is sometimes associated with Alzheimer’s as well, though generally, the causes of the two diseases are different. Dementia and Alzheimer’s actually differ in a lot of ways.
3. Get your blood pressure down
Without a healthy heart, it could be hard for your body to balance out the harmful free radicals in your body. In turn, that could cause oxidative stress and inflammation, which could damage your neurons.
4. Manage your diabetes
Having diabetes raises the risk of dementia, though researchers aren’t sure why. The theory is that when you can’t control your blood sugar, more goes to your brain. In turn, that can cause damage that leads to loss of cognitive function.
5. Lose some weight
Obesity raises your risk of dementia—possibly because it puts you at risk for high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. By keeping to a healthy weight, you can cut your risk for all three. This isn’t the only thing you can do to combat these diseases.
6. Go for a walk
This isn’t just about keeping at a healthy weight; a workout itself could cut down your risk. Older adults who exercise are less likely to develop dementia than those who don’t work out.
7. Quit smoking
If lung cancer wasn’t enough to make you kick your cigarette addiction, maybe this will: Smokers are at higher risk of dementia. Researchers think that a couple things could be at play. For one thing, smoking isn’t healthy for your heart, and cardiovascular problems are linked with dementia. For another, the chemicals in the smoke could be toxic to your brain. What you put in your body has a huge impact on how it performs, especially later in life.
8. Schedule a mental health visit
There’s a link between depression and dementia, but researchers aren’t sure which causes the other. Depression might be an early sign in people who already have dementia, but it could also be a separate risk factor. Because depression affects stress hormones, brain neurons, and the hippocampus (the part of the brain that deals with emotions and memory), it could increase dementia risk. Some antidepressants decrease the production of amyloid, which are proteins that can build up into plaque.
9. Set up a coffee date
Social isolation is associated with dementia. Like depression, though, researchers aren’t sure which one comes first. Either way, spending time with loved ones is a fun way to keep your brain active and raise your spirits—both of which can protect against cognitive decline. Expanding your social circle isn’t the only everyday habit that reduces your risk of dementia. There are plenty of things you can do to prevent risk.