There are ways to prevent or stave off dementia
By the time you reach the age of 65, there is a 15 percent chance you will suffer from mild cognitive impairment. That number goes up to 40 percent by the age of 80, according to neurologist Sean Horrigan, DO, at Neurologists of Cape Cod in Hyannis.
If that sounds discouraging, it’s not written in stone that it will happen to you, even if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or related dementias.
“The genetics of Alzheimer’s disease is varied but we do know that an overwhelming majority of cases are still sporadic,” Dr. Horrigan said. “So just because there is a family history of it, it doesn’t mean that there is this fate that is going to hit every other family member.”
Simply growing older increases the risk for dementia, but there are things that you can do to keep your brain functioning. Cerebral vascular health is really important to brain health, so Dr. Horrigan suggests that his patients do the following things to stay mentally fit.
Studies show that healthy living with regular exercise - in particular cardiovascular exercise - really helps to maintain brain volume, Dr. Horrigan said. Exercise helps keep blood flowing to the brain and strengthens your vascular system. Blood flow to the brain is essential for supplying nutrition to the brain. It also carries away cellular waste and contributes to good metabolic management.
“There are multiple studies that have shown that men and women who exercise at least three days a week, if not more, are more likely to have better cognitive health later in life,” he said. “Don’t stop moving.”
Control Your Blood Pressure
Preliminary findings from the government-sponsored SPRINT MIND Study suggest that aggressively lowing blood pressure can help stave off mild cognitive function, which is a precursor to dementia, Dr. Horrigan said. Hypertension is also one of the main risk factors for strokes, which also cause cognitive problems. If you can’t control your blood pressure with diet, exercise and limited salt, it’s important to manage it with blood pressure medication.
A recently released study showed a correlation between smoking and Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and overall dementia. The study followed more than 46,000 Korean men for seven years. Compared to continual smokers, long-term quitters and never smokers had significantly decreased risk of all dementias. Other studies have concluded the same and show similar benefits of quitting, even if you currently smoke. It’s never too late to stop.
Little or No Alcohol
“Alcohol use is a very fine line,” Dr. Horrigan said. “There’s a lot of information out there that suggests a little bit of alcohol is healthy for you, but too much can be dangerous for you. I always find balance in telling patients - whether they are a man or a woman because there’s different recommendations for each gender – just one drink a day. But if you’re coming to see me because you are worried about your cognitive performance, I think it’s best to just avoid drinking.”
Eat a Healthy, Well-balanced Diet.
Being overweight can lead to all types of health problems, including type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, both of which are risks to cognitive health, said Dr. Horrigan. The Alzheimer’s Association points to studies that link type 2 diabetes with Alzheimer’s disease. Too much sugar in your bloodstream harms all organs, including the brain. It can also lead to heart disease and stroke, which can cause further damage to the vessels in your brain.
The bonus is that if you follow these lifestyle suggestions, you not only will have a healthier brain, but also a healthier heart.
“It’s not too surprising that these are also the same risk factors that put people in harm’s way when it comes to heart disease,” Dr. Horrigan said. “Neurologists and cardiologists tend to have the same talk over and over again with patients: treat your blood pressure, treat your cholesterol, don’t get diabetes and if you have diabetes manage it well. Don’t overeat, don’t smoke, and don’t drink.”