You may not have realized that it is possible to reduce your risk of dementia. Although there are some risk factors you can’t change, there are lots that you can. Based on the latest research, here are our top tips to reduce your risk of dementia.
An estimated 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association – a number that is likely to increase as the population ages. Although the causes of Alzheimer’s and other dementias are not yet fully understood— and while some dementia risk factors cannot be avoided—healthy older adults can reduce their risk of developing dementia. By paying attention to important lifestyle factors, says Nikhil Palekar, MD, medical director of the Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease and director of geriatric psychiatry at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, you can maintain and improve memory, concentration, and mental processing. Here are our simple-to-follow steps to help reduce your risk of dementia.
- Take control of your health. Conditions common in middle-aged and older Americans, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, can constrict your blood vessels— including those that feed your brain, says Dr. Palekar. This can have a negative effect on memory and concentration. Get regular checkups and discuss with your doctor the best ways to manage your health.
- Up your intake of leafy greens: A 2018 study in the journal Neurology found that seniors who ate approximately one serving of green leafy vegetables per day had a slower rate of cognitive decline than those who did not eat green vegetables. Try adding foods like kale, spinach, mustard greens, and escarole to your diet.
- Quit smoking: Because tobacco smoke constricts blood vessels, it can increase the risk for vascular dementia, which is when areas of the brain responsible for concentration and memory don’t get adequate blood flow, says Dr. Palekar. It’s never too late to quit! Talk to your doctor about local support groups or nicotine replacement therapy.
- Eat more fatty acids: A 2017 study in Nutritional Neuroscience found that polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) protect brain health, specifically “fluid intelligence,” or the ability to solve new problems, something that declines as we age. PUFAs include omega 6, found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds; and omega 3, found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, among other foods.
- Keep moving: A 2018 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people with an early form of dementia called mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who engaged in regular aerobic activity were able to slow the progression of their condition. “Brisk walking three times a week, for about 45 minutes, has been shown to improve brain health,” says Dr. Palekar.
- Challenge your mind: The brain may not be a muscle, but it acts like one, so the adage “move it or lose it” is apt when it comes to long-term brain health. The best advice is to continue to do the things you enjoy that challenge you, from crosswords to reading widely. Seek out novel experiences: As you try to learn something new—a dance routine, a musical instrument, or a second language—you “flex” your brain.
- Stay socially active: “We know that depression is a risk factor for developing dementia,” says Dr. Palekar, which is why the social isolation that sometimes accompanies aging can exacerbate mental decline. Make continual efforts to maintain your social, familial, and community ties, and try to find new ways to make connections, such as joining a book club or volunteering.