By and large, medical professionals concur that there is "no certain way to prevent all types of dementia."
In spite of this, sources like the NHS, The Alzheimer's Society, and The Alzheimer's Association suggest that certain lifestyle choices might be effective in lowering the risks associated with dementia as a person grows older.
These are largely preventative in nature, and many involve curtailing the likelihood of developing conditions that contribute to dementia that become more probable during old age.
Healthy Behaviors Are Key
Dementia-related diseases have long been thought to be genetic. In recent years, new studies in a field called epigenetics are emerging to prove that this isn’t an unchangeable outcome.
These studies on epigenetics reveal that though a person may have certain DNA, their environment greatly influences how those genes are expressed.
Basically, certain bad outcomes of disease-causing genes can be avoided with the correct lifestyle modifications.
Specifically, the aforementioned sources point to a group of lifestyle and health choices that have the potential to "support brain health" and mitigate dementia risks.
Chief among these choices are staying active, reducing vices like smoking/drinking, eating healthy, and engaging in copious amounts of mental stimulation.
Let’s dive into these behaviors a little bit more, yes?
Regular exercise produces several positive effects that are considered instrumental in reducing dementia risk.
In addition to increasing overall heart health and improving mental well-being, staying active helps to limit body weight. This is crucial, as conditions associated with being overweight, such as Type-2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease, can also play a role in developing dementia.
The Alzheimer's Society recommends exercising "for at least 30 minutes, five times a week" to achieve the benefits of staying physically active.
While many people tend to fret about the type of exercise to do, the number one goal is that you choose something you will stick to. That being said, an exercise regimen that you enjoy will likely help you stick to it better.
A study by Hyen et.al. has shown as early as 2004 that resistance training can improve cognitive function in those who already have dementia. This is an awesome indicator of resistance training’s benefits beyond muscle gain.
So don’t fret if you don’t necessarily like cardio; you will still reap the physical benefits of exercise by doing resistance training.
Both smoking and drinking can contribute to dementia risk. Hence, limiting these behaviors may work to reduce said risk.
If possible, you should cease smoking completely. Zhong et.al. proved in 2015 that smokers have increased risk of dementia.
However, this same study further showed that completely quitting smoking will decrease dementia risk to that of people who have NEVER smoked.
Yeah… maybe it’s worth trying to cut that out.
Alcohol consumption is acceptable to a degree, but you should try to keep your drinking within recommended limits.
The Mayo Clinic has a list of guidelines on some of the benefits of moderate alcohol intake along with suggested amounts that you may refer to here.
According to The Alzheimer's Association, "current evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating may also help protect the brain."
In particular, they recommend diets that are low processed foods and high in fiber:
"Two diets that have been studied and may be beneficial are the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet."
In general, these dietary approaches include high amounts of fish, poultry, fruits, and vegetables.
They also help to limit high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, which are believed to be additional risk factors in developing certain kinds of dementia. The consumption of healthy fats in both of these diets is key to regulating blood pressure and having healthy cholesterol ratios.
Furthermore, some kinds of supplementation, such as taking Alpha Brain, may help with curbing dementia risks.
Specifically, ingredients in these types of supplements like Vinpocetine and Huperzine, have been indicated as "possibly effective" in boosting brain function and treating some forms of the disease.
Keeping the mind active is just as important as engaging the body in exercise. From Dementia Care Central:
"Stimulation of the mind increases the number and strength of connections between the brain cells, strengthens the brain cells you have, and even increases the number of brain cells slightly."
This extends to activities like reading, playing games or musical instruments, doing puzzles, learning a new language, and a host of other activities.
Moreover, according to The Alzheimer's Society, forming social bonds may also play some benefit as well:
"There is a bit less evidence, but keeping socially engaged and having a good social network may also reduce your dementia risk. Visit people or have them visit you, join a club or volunteer."
Though dementia risks increase with age, taking on some of the aforementioned lifestyle changes have some potential to reduce these risks.
Continue reading more about cutting out unhealthy behaviors, engaging your mind and body, and eating right to provide yourself the best chance of limiting your dementia risk.
Mayo Clinic Staff (2017, August 14). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551
The Alzheimer's Association (2017, August 14) Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_prevention_and_risk.asp
The Alzheimer's Society (2017, August 14) Retrieved from https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20010/risk_factors_and_prevention/737/how_to_reduce_your_risk_of_dementia
NHS Choices (2017, August 14) Retrieved from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/dementia-guide/Pages/dementia-prevention.aspx
Dementia Care Central (2017, August 14) Retrieved from https://www.dementiacarecentral.com/aboutdementia/facts/risk/
WebMD Vitamins & Supplements Search (2017, August 14) Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/condition-1140-Dementia.aspx
Hyen, P. et.al. (2004). The effects of exercise training on elderly persons with cognitive impairment and dementia: A meta-analysis. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 85:10 (1694 - 1704). doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apmr.2004.03.019
Maloney, B., Lahiri, D.K. (June 2016). Epigenetics of dementia: understanding the disease as a transformation rather than a state. The Lancet: Neurology 15:7 (760-774). doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1474-4422(16)00065-X