When it comes to dementia, the statistics are alarming. Around the world, approximately 24 million people are affected by dementia, with cases rising at a startling rate.
But don’t be too disheartened or worried about these statistics. Dementia is not inevitable, and there are plenty of modifiable risk factors that are believed to be play a part in the onset of dementia. There are a number of lifestyle changes that you can make today that will help lower your risk of developing dementia. Read on to discover 11 modifiable risk factors for dementia, and what you can do to address them and strengthen your cognitive function.
Excessive alcohol consumption
People who drink excessively are exposing themselves to a whole host of potential health problems, including a significantly higher risk of dementia (although keep in mind that this is not the case for people who only drink moderately). Aim to cut back on alcohol consumption, and have a number of “dry” days during the week.
There’s very strong evidence that smokers are at a higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers or ex-smokers. But the good news is, it’s never too late to quit, and stopping smoking can reduce your risk of developing dementia. Also be aware of your exposure to second-hand smoke.
Obesity is another risk factor for developing dementia (as well as being a risk factor for many other lifestyle diseases). See your doctor to help you find ways to safely lose weight.
Being physically inactive
Similarly, being physically inactive in later life (from the age of 65) indicates a greater likelihood of developing dementia. Exercise should not be considered optional for older people, who should aim to be active on most days of the week.
Read more about a way to incorporate more exercise into your day – exercise snacking – here.
Exposure to pollution
It is believed that those with a higher exposure to air pollution from vehicle emissions have a higher risk of dementia. While you can’t always change this, take steps such as closing the windows of your house during peak hour, driving with your windows wound up, or walking in clearer areas, to help.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure is associated with a higher risk of dementia in those aged 45 – 65 when compared to those with normal blood pressure. This is due to the effect of high blood pressure on the heart, arteries and blood circulation. Take all steps possible to reduce your blood pressure, in consultation with your doctor or medical professional.
High levels of the “bad” form of cholesterol appear to significantly increase the risk of developing vascular dementia, so take steps to reduce your cholesterol. Don’t know your cholesterol level? Get it checked regularly by your doctor, particularly if you have a family history of high cholesterol. Prevention is better than cure.
If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in mid-life (before the age of 65), you are at an increased risk of dementia. Talk to your doctor to find ways to manage the condition; or better yet if you’re younger, manage your lifestyle to help prevent the onset of diabetes in the first place.
While the relationship between depression and dementia is still unclear, it is clear that there’s a strong link. Take care of your mental health and take steps to address your depression, under the care of a medical or mental health professional.
Lack of social contact
Studies have shown that socially isolated older adults are 30% more likely to develop dementia, due to the profound impact social connection has on cognitive health and longevity. It’s of vital importance that we foster healthy social connections and activity as well as close relationships to help decrease our risk of dementia.
Having low Vitamin D levels
The connection between dementia and Vitamin D levels is becoming clearer, with recent research finding that Vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of dementia by a whopping 32%. The news is even worse if you have severe Vitamin D deficiency, which can increase your dementia risk by nearly 50%. This is due to the fact that Vitamin D regulates calcium homeostasis (and calcium is fundamental to memory formation). A healthy level of Vitamin D intake can help prevent cognitive decline down the road -so it’s wise to ensure an adequate intake long before you get older.
You can increase your Vitamin D intake through food and getting a safe daily amount of exposure to sunshine. This is not always enough, however, and you may need to consider a Vitamin D supplement to help maintain a healthy level.
Having low bone density
Older people with lower bone density are more likely to develop dementia; and while researchers are unsure why this is, they speculate it has something to do with a lack of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is known to strengthen bones, and as we’ve seen above, a lack of it is linked with a higher dementia risk. Whatever the cause, it’s worth taking steps to strengthen your bones, such as taking Vitamin D or calcium supplements and doing regular weight-bearing exercise.
Of course, there are some risk factors you can’t change, such as age, genetics, certain diseases such as Down’s syndrome and traumatic brain accidents. But there are plenty of factors you can modify to help protect your most valuable asset – your brain.
Click here to discover how to tell if your brain is healthy – and how to slow the clock on brain ageing.