5 natural ways to lower your risk of dementia
If you’re reading this blog then there is a good chance that you know someone that has, or is currently, suffering from dementia. It’s a horrible disease for those who are afflicted with dementia and watching those who suffer is just as hard.
Dementia is a term which covers a wide variety of diseases for a group of symptoms which are caused by disorders which the affect the brain. This includes dreadful diseases like lesser known forms of dementia such as Lewy body dementia and common forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
In the U.S. alone, there are more than 5 million people who are living with Alzheimer’s. It’s very hard to watch a loved one go through such a horrible experience which includes memory loss, personality changes, delusions and many more. One important thing to keep in mind is that despite the risk of dementia increasing with age, it’s not a normal part of the ageing process.
As we all know, there is a lot a hurt and suffering involved with Alzheimer’s disease, despite there being many drugs for the disease there aren’t any cures, however, recent research has shown that there could be a happy ending to finding a cure. A recent study published in the journal Aging found that having a good diet and doing plenty of exercises could actually reverse the Alzheimer symptoms.
With treatments looming on the horizon, we can be optimistic that the personalised approaches are crucial to battling this awful disease. However, until that day comes, there are things you can do to lower your risk of dementia before the disease even gets a chance to set in. Last year, Lancet published a report which showed that just over 30% of dementia cases could be delayed or even prevented if these nine areas are focused on:
- Social isolation
- Less early education
- Being inactive (exercise)
- Hearing loss
Root causes and types of dementia
While researchers continue to search for a cure for this horrible disease, it’s clear that dementia doesn’t happen overnight as there are many root causes of the disease. Here are the root causes and different types of dementia:
Dementia comes in all shapes and sizes, however, this is it’s the most common form. With Alzheimer’s, the cerebral cortex is affected and is characterised by “plagues” and “tangles” that results in the loss of brain cells which leads to shrinkage of the brain.
Vascular dementia can come on suddenly with a stroke or overtime with atherosclerosis, it occurs due to the brain not getting enough blood which leads to brain cells dying and that can lead to permanent brain damage.
This form of dementia is characterised by damaging and shrinking in the temporal and frontal lobes. This form of dementia is common in those under the age of 65.
Around 20% of frontotemporal dementia is passed down through a genetic mutation from their parents.
Lewy body dementia
This type of dementia is distinguished through tiny, circular lumps of protein which develop on the inside of brain cells. There much we don’t know about this type of dementia however, it is thought that dopamine and acetylcholine are connected in some way.
Five ways to lower the risk of dementia
Go for a walk
As simple as it sounds, going for a weekly walk does a wonder for your health but specifically, you should go for a walk around three times a week.
Let’s start off with one of the simpler things you can do in order to prevent dementia. A 2017 study looked into the second most common form of dementia, vascular cognitive impairment, and how exercise affected patients. Normally, brain scan studies of those who have a vascular cognitive impairment, on the whole, show an increase in neural activity in multiple sections of their brain. This includes their attention and decision making, which meant that their brains had to work harder than a healthier brain.
To determine whether exercising could help the brain work less, analysts recruited over 30 older people who had been diagnosed with a minor form of vascular cognitive impairment who weren’t exercising at the time. By measuring the participants’ brain activity, researchers can then begin the exercise process which includes, one-hour sessions for three times per week. Those who were supervising the study told the patients to move nimbly so that they could raise their heart rate to around 65% of their maximum capacity.
When the study had run its course, the walkers generally had lower blood pressures compared to the control group. Not to mention that their brains were working in different ways as the walkers’ brain activity was showing that there was less activity in sections of the brain which are needed for fast decision making and for attention span.
“A 2018 study further confirmed this by examining if cardiovascular fitness in middle-aged women decreased dementia risk. The study examined Swedish women aged 38-60 and revealed that women who participated in high fitness delayed dementia by at least five years compared to those that participated in medium fitness. The findings concluded that overall participation in cardiovascular health can assist with preventing dementia.”
Avoid allergy drugs
Not just allergy drugs but other drugs which are linked to dementia.
We know that we are right in the middle of allergy season but drugs that are linked to dementia include your common allergy medications (hayfever tablets), Benadryl, Unison, sleep medications and many others.
JAMA Neurology published a 2016 study which looked into how anticholinergic drugs affect the brain. Through the use of brain imaging, MRI and PET scanning technology, the analysists could see how those that took anticholinergic drugs experienced a lower brain metabolism rate and a higher brain atrophy. When the patients who took the anticholinergic drugs were tested on the memory, they showed the worst.
Researchers at the University of Washington also discovered that chronic use of certain anticholinergic drugs increased the individual’s risk of dementia. The study found that these drugs were only linked to dementia when they were taking these drugs for three or more years.
Find out if your medications have any anticholinergic properties. If they do find an alternate and safer option, work with your healthcare provider to find a more natural treatment for your ailments.
Now, before you start emptying the medicine cabinet, one thing to keep in mind is that this research was done where the subjects took these medicines once a day for three years. So, unless you take your hayfever tablets in December, you needn’t start panicking too much.
Keep an eye on your Vitamin D levels
Three years ago, researchers from the U.K published their findings in Neurology which suggested that people who were seriously lacking in vitamin D, to extreme levels faced over a 120% increased chance of getting dementia in later life. However, those that weren’t seriously deficient had just over a 50% higher risk of getting dementia in later life.
To find out what your vitamin D levels are, ask your doctor for a 5-hydroxyvitamin D or a blood test, but make sure you get the exact number of your results. This means if the test comes back as ‘normal’, your blood pressure is 30ng/mL or above. However, the facts remain that many medical doctors believe that minimum levels of 60 or maybe even 80ng/mL are needed in order to prevent a risk of many other health issues. After you find out what your levels are you can then proceed to increase your vitamin D through either supplements or working on changing your diet to foods which are rich in vitamin D. You could even head into the garden to some exposure to sunlight!
Make sure you’re sleeping right
What do we mean by this? Well like most people, you will probably sleep on your side and as we now have a better understanding of how this can help the brain. Three years ago, researchers had found that by sleeping on your side, this could improve one of the waste clearing processes of the brain. This can lower the risk of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
The links between different forms of dementia and sleep are well-established however, a recent study took a closer look into how the way you’re sleeping affects the drainage of harmful substances in the brain. The study found that compared to those who slept on their front or back, the brains complex system (which clears out harmful chemicals and other waste from the brain) worked at it’s best when people were sleeping on their sides.
So, make sure that when you call it a day and head to bed, to sleep on your side rather than your front or back!
Live life to the fullest
Last but not least, you should live life to the fullest.
Researchers from Rush University Medical Centre have discovered an unusual connection between an individual’s risk of dementia and their sense of purpose. Those who participated in a life purpose test and had the highest scores were more than twice as likely to NOT develop Alzheimer’s disease in later life.
The study defined ‘living life to the fullest’ as involving things such as:
- A sense of direction
- Having a positive outlook
- Feeling happy about past achievements
Essentially, live your life to fullest by making memories with friends and family, making sure you find something (or someone) that makes you happy, learning a new instrument or doing something you’re passionate about are good examples.
How does dementia impact the economy?
Dementia isn’t just a horrible disease that has left the public health in a crisis, but the economy is in one too. In the U.S, Alzheimer’s alone costs the economy over $220 billion. If nothing is done to slow down or cure the disease, Alzheimer’s could pose a real threat to the economy. It is predicted that by 2050 the number of people who will be living with Alzheimer’s will reach 16 million. Economists predict that this could end up costing the U.S economy over $1 trillion
Watching or living with someone who is battling dementia, isn’t an easy task. However, the disease is constantly being researched so there is always hope that someday the disease can be slowed down or maybe even eradicated for good.
In some cases, dementia can be genetic, however, as we’ve discussed in this article though, environmental factors play a bit role in it too.
The good news is, is that with environmental factors, you can adapt your lifestyle in order to have less of a risk of getting dementia as you get older.
Thank you for reading, if you think you, or a loved one may have a form of dementia, go with them to see a doctor to find out more.