Whether you’re a caregiver to an elderly parent, or a senior, yourself, you’ve probably already given some thought to how to prevent dementia. As our lifespans increase, our hope is to live them out in good health, both physically and mentally. Did you know that not only can you delay the onset of dementia, but you can do a lot to prevent it.
How to Prevent Dementia
Here are 7 Steps you can take to keep your brain healthy as healthy as possible:
Step 1. Get regular exercise. Whether you work out on a treadmill, exercise bike (minimum is a half hour, 4 times a week) or take 30 minute brisk walks 4 or more times a week, (you can even break it up into 3 brisk fifteen minute walks) getting exercise stimulates the production of chemicals called growth factors that help neurons adapt to new situations. No discussion of how to prevent dementia doesn’t include getting regular exercise. Even though you think of it as physical, it affects you mentally and has been shown to delay the onset of dementia symptoms. It also helps with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, which are also important factors in maintaining cognitive health.
Step 2. Lower your cholesterol levels. Research shows that people with high cholesterol levels have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Cholesterol is the substance that creates amyloid plaques in the brain. Statins are drugs that lower cholesterol levels, and lessen the likelihood of cognitive impairment.
Step 3. Lower your homocysteine levels. Get a blood test to check the levels of the amino acid, homocysteine, in your blood. Research shows that elevated blood levels homocysteine are associated with a 2.9 times greater risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and a 4.9 times greater risk of vascular dementia. What can you do? Early studies show that high doses of three B vitamins can help lower homocysteine levels: They are Folic acid, B12, and B6. A multi-center clinical trial to test this effect in a larger group of patients is going on now to corroborate these early results.
Step 4. Lower your blood pressure. A huge European study on how to prevent dementia found that people over age 60 with normal blood pressure (because they were taking medication for hypertension) had a 55 percent lower risk of developing both dementia and specifically, Alzheimer’s. Whether your blood pressure is naturally low, or you need hypertensive drugs to lower it, you can control it. One thing you must know about blood pressure or hypertension medication is that you must take it every day. If you take it some days and not others, it will not work.
Step 5. Lower your glucose levels. Studies show that people who maintain good control over their sugar or glucose levels tend to score better on tests of cognitive function than those who don’t, so if you have diabetes you need to control it. If your glucose level is creeping up, speak to your doctor about the steps you can take to lower it.
Step 6. Formal education. Researchers have discovered that formal education may help protect people against the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. A large study shows that adults with more years of formal education had less mental decline than adults with fewer years of schooling. It appears that education triggers the brain to develop robust nerve cell networks that can help compensate for the cell damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. If you feel deficient in this area, check out the many articles on this website on how to take free college courses, and sign up!
Step 7. Control inflammation. Do you have rheumatoid arthritis? Have you even been checked for it? Several studies suggest that inflammation may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Autopsies of people who died with Alzheimer’s show widespread inflammation in the brain caused by an accumulation of beta amyloid. Another study found that men with high levels of C-reactive protein which is a general marker of inflammation, had a significantly higher risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and other kinds of dementia. Get a blood test and check for C-reactive protein.