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11 Ways To Reduce Your Risk for Dementia

For many, the aging process is a great unknown. The truth is, there’s plenty you can do to prepare for it and no shortage of information to guide you through it. It’s only human nature to fear change. One of the most common fears about aging is cognitive change and suffering diminished thinking skills. This is oftentimes known as dementia or the specific disease of Alzheimer’s.

The good news is that as you age, you can maintain a strong body and mind. There are ways you can keep up, even improve, your physical and mental well-being. Thus, as you age, there are things within your control that you can do to be fully active and engaged.

That’s not to discount dementia as a real problem that besets some persons. But before jumping to conclusions, it’s best to separate facts from myths.

What Is Dementia?

The belief that dementia is a natural part of aging is false, and so is the notion that dementia is a specific disease. Actually, it’s a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think or make decisions that interferes with daily living, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In other words, dementia goes well beyond the occasional or situational forgetfulness that comes with normal aging, such as misplacing keys or trouble remembering a name. There are different types of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60% to 80% of cases.

There are certain types of nonreversible dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal, vascular, and Lewy body. But there are some reversible conditions that present dementia symptoms, such as drug reactions, emotional disorders, metabolic and endocrine issues, sensory loss, nutritional or electrolyte imbalances, infections, and other conditions.

Dementia Symptoms

Only a medical assessment can diagnose the condition, but if any of the following become a pattern, then dementia is a likely culprit:

  • Getting lost in familiar surroundings, such as at home, in the neighborhood or at the local grocery store.
  • Calling objects by something other than their name.
  • Not recognizing or recalling a close family member or friend.
  • Inability to access old memories, including significant life events.
  • Inability to independently complete basic, once autonomous tasks.

Causes of Dementia

The risk for the onset of dementia increases with age and with a history of dementia in the family. Other major risk factors have to do with race/ethnicity, as African Americans and Latinos are more likely to develop dementia than whites, and poor heart health, specifically untreated high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.

Traumatic brain injury suffered in a traffic accident or a fall or athletic competition, for example, can also increase the risk of dementia. It may not be cool, but wearing a seat belt when driving or riding in a car and donning a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike may just save your life and preserve the quality of your later years.

Tips To Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Some risk factors for dementia can be reduced by taking charge of your health and daily living habits. Here are 11 things you can do to reduce your risk for dementia:

  1. Getting regular exercise, particularly cardiovascular workouts that elevate heart rate and increase blood flow, has been shown to mitigate cognitive decline. Walking, hiking, running, swimming, dancing, even gardening, count. Staying physically active is just better for overall health, too.
  1. Mental engagement, whether reading, taking classes, playing games or any number of things, keeps the mind sharp and may help ward off dementia.
  1. Staying socially engaged with friends, family, colleagues or others. In-person is best, but in this age of pandemic, any kind of interaction with those you care about is better than none. Many seniors are working well past traditional retirement age, and many retirees stay active by volunteering.
  1. Having a companion, even a pet, can be a mental-emotional boost. Walking a dog has the added benefit of exercise, too!
  1. Quitting smoking. It’s bad for your heart health, and anything that constricts blood vessels to make your heart and lungs work harder is bad for your brain.
  1. Getting enough sleep. Trouble sleeping is linked to memory, thinking and mood disorders. Deep rest makes for a sound mind that’s clear of the brain fog that comes with sleep disorders.
  1. Treating depression, anxiety and other mental disorders before they interfere with your ability to handle daily activities.
  1. Maintaining good vision. New studies suggest an increased incidence of dementia in older individuals with untreated vision problems.
  1. Finding effective ways to manage and release stress, and to keep blood pressure at a safe level. Exercise, tai chi, yoga, meditation, music, communing with nature and other practices can help you chill.
  1. Taking precautions to avoid falls that may result in a head injury. This can start with regular physical activity to improve strength and balance, thus reducing your risk of falling. At home, stow away cords, shoes, throw rugs and other objects that might pose a tripping hazard. Keep stairs clear and free of clutter. Turn lights on before entering a dark room and add enhanced lighting to areas, indoor or out, that need brightening.
  1. Though it may not be specifically related to reducing the risk for dementia, a healthy, well-balanced diet is always a good idea. A diet low in saturated fats is ideal. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean diets can help reduce heart disease and may be able to reduce the risk of dementia. These heart-friendly eating practices emphasize whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, and heathy fats such as olive oil, while reducing red meat, sugar and sodium intake.

If you have concerns, your first step should be to make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can assess your symptoms, medical history and current medications, and listen to your concerns so you can start getting the help you need.

If a dementia diagnosis is eventually made for whatever reason, reversible or nonreversible, a professionally trained caregiver can help with services related to daily living functions, including companionship and safety supervision, as well as any personal care needs should they arise.

Download Right at Home’s Dementia and Cognitive Change Guide for additional insight and resources that can help. Right at Home also has several online articles on issues related to dementia and Alzheimer’s and the conditions and symptoms that can occur.

Or, find your local Right at Home office to get more information or schedule a free in-home assessment.

For more helpful information, visit:

https://www.cdc.gov/aging/dementia/index.html
https://www.alz.org/help-support/brain_health

Author Leo Adam Biga

Leo Adam Biga is a veteran freelance journalist and author who writes stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. The Omaha native and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate is the author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” Follow his work at https://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

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