Causes of different kinds of dementia vary, but about 40% are affected by risk factors a person can influence through lifestyle choices.
Two University of Michigan neurologists offer 10 tips for modifying those risks.
- Keep blood pressure in check. Dr. Judith Heidebrink, a neurologist who is co-leader of the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center’s Clinical Core, recommends aiming for a systolic blood pressure (the upper number) of 130 mm Hg or lower from around age 40. This helps reduce risk of cognitive impairment, dementia, heart attack and stroke.
- Guard your hearing. Wear ear protection around excessive noise to reduce the risk of hearing loss, center director Dr. Henry Paulson urged. Use hearing aids, if needed. A recent study found that older adults who got a hearing aid for their newly diagnosed hearing loss had a lower risk of dementia in the following three years, he pointed out.
- Support efforts to reduce air pollution. “There is growing evidence linking air pollution — such as the gases and small particles emitted by cars and factories — to cognitive decline and dementia,” Heidebrink said. “Encouragingly, sustained improvements in air quality appear to reduce the risk of dementia.”
- Prevent head injuries. Wear proper gear when playing contact sports, including a helmet while biking. Don’t forget to use a seat belt in cars. Head injury can disrupt normal brain function. See a doctor right away if you think you have a concussion or traumatic brain injury.
- Don’t smoke or drink to excess. If you do smoke, quit, even if it’s later in life. And limit alcohol use. “It has long been known that alcohol misuse is associated with damage to the brain and an increased risk of dementia,” Heidebrink said. “Limiting alcohol consumption to one drink per day appears safest.”
- Stay mentally engaged. Find something you enjoy, whether that’s taking a class locally or online, challenging your mind with puzzles and games, or starting a new hobby.
- Socialize. Keeping up with friends and family is also helpful, Paulson said. Be social or choose a social activity that is meaningful to you, such as volunteering or participating in community groups.
- Eat right and exercise. Follow a heart healthy diet and exercise throughout life, the doctors suggest. This includes a diet filled with fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. The Mediterranean diet is a good option. This can help guard against an unhealthy weight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, all of which are known to contribute to dementia. Get 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity throughout the week. A brisk walk or riding a stationary bike three times a week helps the brain work better.
- Get good sleep. Quality sleep gives the brain a chance to lock in memories and gain the ability to learn new skills.
- Take care of your mental health. Physical activity can reduce stress. Social activities and hobbies can help prevent depression. See your doctor if you are concerned about your mental health.
Many dementia risk factors disproportionately affect ethnic minority groups, Heidebrink noted in a Michigan Medicine news release.
“In addition to taking steps as individuals to decrease our own dementia risk, we should take steps as a society to ensure that everyone has equitable access to an environment and resources that promote brain health,” she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on reducing dementia risk.
SOURCE: Michigan Medicine, news release, Feb. 17, 2023
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