What can you do to lower your risk of dementia?
While you cannot change the genes that you inherited from your parents, you can make changes to your lifestyle.
Studies have shown that poor sleep is a risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Getting enough good quality sleep is thought to play an important role in maintaining brain health as you get older.
Try to develop a regular sleep and bedtime routine, avoiding caffeine after midday and turning off TV and other screens at least an hour before bedtime.
A balanced diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables has benefits for both your heart and brain health. Eating too many processed foods which contain high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats can increase your risk of high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure and stroke, all of which are risk factors for developing dementia.
Aim to eat five portions of fruits and vegetables a day and choose natural foods over processed ones whenever possible.
Regular moderate physical exercise is one of the best ways to improve your cardiovascular health and improve your mental wellbeing. Research has shown that it can reduce your risk of dementia as well.
Aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes five times a week. Walk or cycle instead of taking the car whenever you can.
One study found that engaging in mentally stimulating activities, even in late life, may be protective against cognitive decline and memory loss.
Keep your mind active with activities such as reading, solving puzzles, playing word games, and memory training.
Remaining socially engaged and having a supportive social network as you get older has been found to reduce rates of cognitive decline.
Make time to have fun with friends and family or keep in contact by phone. Consider volunteering to help others if you have time.
- Manage stress and anxiety
Chronic anxiety and stress have been found to lead to structural degeneration and impaired functioning in parts of the brain which may account for an increased risk of developing dementia and other neurological disorders.
A healthy diet, exercise ad good sleep can help. Take breaks from work or other stressors where possible and make time for relaxation, meditation or hobbies. Seek help from a trusted friend or professional counsellor if you are struggling.
- Manage cardiovascular risk factors
Heart and cardiovascular disease affect blood flow to the brain and can increase the risk of stroke and some types of dementia. Many things that cause heart disease such as tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can also increase your dementia risk.
If you are at risk of high cholesterol or high blood pressure or have diabetes, talk to your doctor about ways to manage these conditions.
Head injuries, especially being knocked out, increase the risk of dementia later in life. About a fifth of professional boxers go on to develop a form of dementia known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy and there is also an increased risk for other sports where repetitive mild head injuries may occur.
Always wear recommended protective equipment to protect you head during sports. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about the risks.
Smoking tobacco has a proven harmful effect on the heart, lungs and blood supply to the brain, significantly increasing the risk of developing dementia later in life, especially Alzheimer’s disease.
Seek professional help if you are finding it difficult to quit smoking.