Dementia is a blanket medical term generally used to describe any condition that causes a decline in mental cognition and memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease is its most common form. Sadly, dementia cases are frighteningly common, affecting an estimated 47 million people around the world, according to figures by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Recent research shows that those numbers are expected to triple by 2050.
All that said, scientists continue to feverishly hunt for ways to prevent this from happening. Dementia may be genetic, but there are still plenty of habits to keep cognitive decline at bay.
From simply eating well to spending time regularly with friends and family, ways to lower dementia risk aren’t as difficult as it may seem. Here are some tips on how to not just reduce your own risk, but those closest to you too.
Keep a healthy heart to slash risk of dementia in half
Both family history and heart health influence an individual’s chances of developing dementia, one study says. The presence of dementia-associated common gene variants alone were found to potentially double a person’s risk of dementia. However, if that same person is in strong cardiovascular shape that dementia risk is cut in half!
The study by Boston University researchers show the effects of both genes and cardiovascular health on dementia risk are additive. This means either of those factors can solely raise or lower a person’s dementia risk. “Just because you have a high genetic risk of dementia doesn’t mean that you can’t lower your risk by adopting a healthier lifestyle,” says study lead author Dr. Gina Peloso.
The results are quite clear. The study shows that adults with strong cardiovascular health were 55% less likely to develop dementia.
Engage in mentally stimulating jobs
People with jobs that keep their brains stimulated are less likely to suffer from cognitive decline and develop dementia as they grow old, a study by an international team of researchers concludes.
One possible reason is that mental stimulation appears to have a connection to lower levels of certain proteins in the brain. These substances can prevent brain cells from forming new connections.
Three specific associations were looked up in the study. Cognitive stimulation and dementia risk in more than 107,800 participants with an average age of 45; cognitive stimulation and proteins in a random sample of 2,261 participants; and proteins and dementia risk in 13,656 participants.
Findings remained constant after further adjustments for a range of dementia risk factors in childhood and adulthood, including cardiometabolic diseases like diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
Strong support system for loved ones
Paying visits to our grandparents does a lot more than brighten their days. A recent study finds a strong support system of family and friends can also reduce an elderly person’s risk of developing dementia. The study was conducted over a 10-year period and involved 10,055 individuals (5,475 men and 4,580 women) who were dementia-free at the start of the study. Researchers tracked six items from a health and lifestyle questionnaire for people aged 50 and older.
The authors found that positive social support equates to more than just having important people in one’s life, such as spouses, partners, children or other immediate family. It means that those people are reliable, approachable and understanding with their loved one. They found that a one-point increase in positive social support reduced the risk of developing dementia by 17%.
“Our results will add to the impetus underlying local and national efforts to help strengthen the social relationships of older people, many of whom are isolated and lonely,” says study co-author Andrew Steptoe of University College London.
Follow a healthy lifestyle
Living a healthy lifestyle may be able to offset the genetic risk of developing dementia, according to a recent study.
Data on 196,383 adults of European ancestry over the age of 60 were analyzed in the study. Each person was placed in one of three groups: high, intermediate, and low genetic risk. Over the course of eight years, 1,769 cases of dementia were identified among the participants.
The study found that, among people with a genetic predisposition towards dementia, those who actively lead a healthy lifestyle were 32% less likely to develop it than those who lived an unhealthy lifestyle. Furthermore, participants with a high genetic risk of dementia and unhealthy lifestyle were nearly three times more likely to develop a form of dementia compared to people with a low genetic risk and healthy lifestyle.
Spend time with friends everyday
Evidence shows that regular social contact earlier in life diminishes one’s odds of suffering from dementia at an older age.
Data collected for a previous study, consisting of 10,228 participants who had been surveyed six different times between 1985 and 2013 regarding their social habits, frequency of contact with friends, etc. Each participant also completed an annual cognitive assessment beginning in 1997, and researchers kept track of each person’s medical records until 2017 in order to see whether or not they developed dementia.
The analysis revealed that robust social contact at age 60 was indeed associated with a significantly lower risk of dementia later on in life. Moreover, an individual who saw friends almost everyday at age 60 was found to be 12% less likely to suffer from dementia than someone who only saw a few friends a handful of times every couple of months.