Can Lifestyle Changes Prevent Dementia?
September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day. And while there is no cure, there are things we can do to mitigate the risks. A team of experts created a bit of a stir last year at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference when they declared that one-third of all cases of dementia could be prevented through lifestyle changes.
Here are some of the most important things you can do to keep your brain healthy.
Engage your mind in stimulating activities
A study conducted by Rush University found that people who engaged in mentally stimulating activities – from reading a newspaper to playing chess to learning a new skill – were 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia than someone who was mentally inactive. Arnold Scheibel, head of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, notes that “anything that’s intellectually challenging can probably serve as a kind of stimulus for dendritic growth, which means it adds to the computational reserves in the brain.” In other words, engaging your mind encourages brain cells and connections to grow, which may lessen the effects of dementia, even where beta-amyloid deposits – which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease – are present.
Staying fit helps the brain just as much as the heart, your muscles or any other part of your body. In one study of seniors published in Stroke, those who reported that they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week, reduced their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40 percent and cognitive impairment due to any reason by 60 percent. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing the disease by 50 percent.
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston had people between the ages of 55 and 90, all of whom had mild cognitive impairment, do a guided meditation for 15 to 30 minutes a day and practice yoga for at least two hours a week for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, participants showed an overall improvement in cognition and well-being. Their MRIs showed a slowing of brain shrinkage and improved functional connectivity compared to the group in the study who didn’t meditate. A study from UCLA discovered that long-term meditators had bigger brains that non-meditators. A smaller brain has been identified as a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
Make quality sleep a priority
Several studies have shown that your brain has a wonderful way of eliminating toxic waste, including beta-amyloid proteins. These studies also discovered that the system that accomplishes this feat is 10 times more active during sleep. So if you’re not getting enough quality sleep, your brain can’t eliminate waste efficiently. A study from the University of California, Berkeley discovered that poor sleep caused more buildup of beta-amyloid proteins and that this buildup affected people’s ability to sleep well, a classic vicious cycle. The good news is that poor sleep is a highly treatable condition.
Eat more nutritiously
The brain doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Whatever is good for the body is usually good for the brain. Good nutrition, which helps the body function at its best, is essential for good brain health. There are some specific nutrients that the brain is particularly fond of. Approximately 60 percent of your brain is composed of fat, so it’s important to get enough healthy fats in your diet. And that means loading up on your omega-3 fatty acids. Food high in omega-3s include many fish, especially wild salmon, herring, and sardines. Other good sources of omega-3s include flaxseed (including flaxseed oil) and walnuts. Antioxidants, found in high concentrations in blueberries, red beans, green tea and red wine, are also important for brain health. Finally, the brain loves water. Dehydration can raise the level of stress hormones in the body.
Stay in touch with friends and family
As human beings, we are, by nature, social animals. Our ability to exchange ideas and share complex emotions has helped build civilizations and create amazing works of art. It’s also important for maintaining brain health. In two separate studies, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Michigan discovered that people who engaged in a lot of social activity showed higher levels of cognitive performance and had slower rates of memory decline. In the Harvard study, socially active adults had less than half the rate of memory decline than those who were the least active.
The team at Family Home Health Network is trained in managing memory care issues such as dementia and its symptoms. Through their Memory Support Program, staff members work directly with clients and their caregivers to develop personalized plans of care to maintain or increase mobility, cognitive status, and independence. We also partner with hospitals, physicians, and senior care facilities to provide an integrated continuum of care. For more information, call 866-320-3300.