A recent study published in Lancet identified nine lifestyle factors associated with dementia. This meta-analysis found that over 1/3 of dementia cases could be avoided through lifestyle changes.
This research is part of a new focus on dementia prevention. While a cure for dementia seems a long way off, lifestyle changes are within our reach right now.
The big take-away from the report was to be ambitious about prevention. While we cannot modify the genetic pre-disposition toward Alzheimer’s, we can make lifestyle changes.
The lifestyle factors identified in the report can be grouped into three main areas – cardiovascular health, social engagement and intellectual engagement. Adoption of dementia prevention strategies could focus on these nine areas and have a significant impact.
The first series of risk factors focused on cardiovascular health. The identified risks were:
- Lack of Physical Exercise
Actively treating high blood pressure as well as, managing diabetes and obesity are important first steps. Individuals can also focus on increasing physical exercise, and reducing smoking. Addressing these five factors can have a positive impact on the cardiovascular system. We know that the brain consumes a significant amount of oxygen and glucose to function well. Further, both the heart and the lungs provide those essential elements to the brain, so when they work well so does the brain. It is not surprising, therefore, that improving cardiovascular health will reduce dementia risk.
The second series of factors focused on social engagement. The identified risks were:
- Hearing Loss
- Social isolation
Managing hearing loss, treating depression, and improving social engagement all have a positive impact on reducing dementia risk. We know that the human person is wired to connect to other people. We recognize that babies who do not have enough social interaction fail to thrive, so it is not surprising that adults who have low social interaction also fail to thrive.
Hearing loss can be particularly isolating for individuals as they age. My great-grandmother significantly declined after she went deaf. She was no longer able to interact with the individuals in the community that she lived in, and she became isolated and withdrawn.
The Technology Temptation
The study cautioned that while technology can be helpful, it should not replace social contact. We know from the Oregon study that the face-to-face connections have a bigger impact on depression than email or phone calls. This area really speaks to the need of individuals to have emotional connections with other human beings.
The third series of factors focuses on intellectual engagement. The identified risk was:
- Incomplete secondary education
Early learning patterns establish high idea density. High idea density is the complexity of individual thought patterns. The greater the complexity, the stronger the cognitive resilience of the brain. Higher learning, therefore, helps the brain develop high idea density. So individuals with completed secondary education and post-secondary education reduce dementia risk.
Further education also establishes positive patterns established towards learning. The habit of continuous learning will build cognitive resilience. Increased cognitive resilience buffers against diseases like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
thus, continuing to learn new material and engage in complex and novel mental activities help the brain stay strong.
The Main Takeaway – You Can Control Your Lifestyle.
While the genetic predispositions for Alzheimer’s are not presently modifiable, we can significantly reduce dementia risk by altering lifestyle. And implementing these lifestyle changes will not only reduce dementia risk but will also improve quality of life.