When people think about Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, one of their first thoughts is how to avoid developing them. Although medical researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint what exactly causes these conditions, they’ve been able to ascertain what can lead to them, and determine which groups are at risk.
With this information, people can now make lifestyle adjustments that reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, while simultaneously improving their overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
You can start reducing your risk today by:
Staying physically active
Being physically active carries a wealth of health benefits, including reducing your risk of developing dementia. Physical activity also benefits your heart, weight, circulation, and mental well-being.
Just 30 minutes of physical activity can make a difference, even if you just go out for a brisk walk or ride a bike. You can take many “moving breaks” throughout the day that help you avoid sitting down for long periods of time.
You can also ramp up light to moderate activity to something more vigorous, such as jogging, swimming, or dancing. Resistance activities such as gardening, push-ups, or sit-ups can also be integrated into your exercise routine.
It’s best to choose activities that you enjoy so you look forward to doing them every day. Be sure to check with your family doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
Keeping your brain busy
It’s not just important to exercise your body. You should also exercise your brain! Keeping your brain busy with new challenges seems to build up the brain’s ability to cope with disease, and helps reduce your risk of dementia.
Find activities you enjoy to keep your brain sharp, and do them as often as possible. Here are some ideas you can try:
- Take a course in something you’re interested in learning, such as cooking, computers, photography, or something else fun
- Learn a new language
- Learn to play a musical instrument
- Do puzzles, crosswords, word searches, sudoku, or quizzes
- Play board games or cards (or learn to do card tricks!)
- Read challenging books, or write your own fiction or non-fiction book
- Stay social with hiking groups, volunteering, or community groups and clubs
You should also keep in touch with people close to you, such as family, friends, or colleagues to protect your mental and emotional health.
Maintaining a healthy diet
Following a healthy, balanced nutrition plan can reduce your risk of dementia, as well as stave off other conditions including cancer, heart disease, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and more. Here’s a general guideline for a well-rounded diet:
- At least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day
- Protein such as oily fish, eggs, or meat at least twice per week
- Carbs such as bread, potatoes, and pasta
- 6 – 8 glasses of water, low-fat milk, or sugar-free drinks per day
- Avoid saturated fat and food with added salt or sugar
Smoking can harm the circulation of blood to your body, including the blood vessels in your brain. This can lead to a dementia-type condition.
You’re also at a higher risk of developing other conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and lung and other types of cancer.
If you currently smoke, here are ways you can stop:
- Talk to your doctor about different methods to stop smoking
- Use an alternative nicotine product such as lozenges or gum
- Take advantage of the support services offered by Health Canada
Minimizing your alcohol intake
Your risk of developing dementia increases if you drink too much alcohol, which can lead to alcohol-related brain damage, as well as liver, heart, and stomach damage, various types of cancer, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and more.
Health Canada recommends that men consume no more than 3 standard drinks per day and no more than 15 standard drinks per week. For women, they recommend no more than 2 standard drinks per day and no more than 10 standard drinks per week.
There are several ways you can try to reduce your alcohol intake or quit alcohol altogether:
- Seek advice and support from your doctor
- Switch to non-alcoholic beverages, or alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
- Get support to reduce your alcohol consumption from organizations such as ConnexOntario
Visiting your doctor regularly
As we age, it’s more important that we regularly visit the doctor to keep on top of our health, especially in the mid-life years prior to becoming elderly.
Keep an open dialogue with your doctor and express concerns you have about your health, including depression, hearing loss, and trouble sleeping, as all of these conditions might increase your risk of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia risk factors you can’t control\
Along with the risk factors you can reduce, there are several risk factors you simply have no control over, including:
Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. The risk of developing dementia after age 65 doubles approximately every 5 years. In fact, it’s believed that dementia affects 1 in 6 people aged 80 years or older.
This increased risk in older people is thought to be due to a number of factors such as:
- Increase in blood pressure
- Higher risk of heart disease and stroke
- Weakening immune system
- Loss of sex hormones due to mid-life changes
- Changes to nerve cells, DNA, and cellular structure
Genes we inherit from our parents play a significant role in whether we will be inflicted with certain diseases. However, it’s important to point out that if a parent or sibling has dementia, it is not a guarantee that you will develop it.
Doctors have identified 20 genes that do not directly lead to dementia, but do increase your risk of developing it. It is possible to inherit genes that do cause dementia, but this happens in relatively few cases.
For example, there have been patterns recorded of families passing down a rare form of dementia called familial Alzeimer’s disease, as well as genetic frontotemporal dementia (FTD). If one parent with the mutated FTD gene has a child with someone who doesn’t, the child has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene.
Research has noted that women are at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease than men. Of the 5 million Americans who have the condition, 64 percent are women. The medical community isn’t sure why this is, although a lack of estrogen after menopause has been suggested.
Men are at a slightly higher risk for vascular dementia because they are more prone to heart disease and stroke, which can cause vascular and mixed dementia.
Studies have shown that some ethnic communities are at a higher risk of dementia than others. For example, statistical calculations have shown that of people starting at age 65, 38% of people of African descent will develop dementia over the following 25 years, compared to only 28% of Asian Americans and 30% of Caucasians.
It’s been suggested that these numbers are due to a variety of differences in diet, lifestyle, exercise, genes, and the propensity to develop heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other conditions that can lead to dementia.
Where to turn when you need help coping with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
Getting an Alzheimer’s disease or dementia diagnosis can be difficult for both the patient and the people who care about them. When you need help coping, there are many resources you can turn to, including Alzheimer Society of Canada, Alzheimer’s Association, and Health Canada.
If you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, we can help provide support on a full-time or part-time basis, or just when you need a break or helping hand. CareHop specializes in supporting families with qualified nursing and home healthcare services with care packages customized to your needs.
If you have any questions, please contact me or my team anytime. We’re always happy to help.