The American Heart Association has published a scientific statement on “Harnessing Healthy Behaviors to Prevent Dementia” (Stroke, Mar 15, 2021:52(6A);52:e295-e308). They report that dementia is associated with the following modifiable risk factors: depression, all heart attack risk factors, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, an inflammatory diet, smoking, social isolation, excessive alcohol use, sleep disorders and hearing loss. Changing these lifestyle risk factors can reduce your chances of suffering from dementia.
Studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in 2019 found that specific healthful lifestyle changes can reduce dementia risk (JAMA, published online July 14, 2019), and that even if you have high genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, a healthful lifestyle can reduce your chances of developing dementia (Neurology, published online July 10, 2019). This is very encouraging news, since just about every lifestyle risk factor for suffering a heart attack is also a risk factor for dementia (Alzheimer’s & Dementia, May 12, 2018), and we already have extensive data to show that healthful lifestyle factors help to prevent and treat heart disease.
Dementia means loss of brain function, and your chances of being affected increase with age (Neurology, 2013;80(19):1778-83):
• 3 percent of those aged 65-74
• 17 percent of those aged 75-84
• 32 percent of those aged 85 or older
Doctors can predict your risk for developing dementia by ordering an MRI which can show decreased volume of grey matter in the brain (Brain Imaging and Behavior, May 9, 2018). Grey matter is where the brain processes speech, hearing, feelings, seeing, and memory. Having low levels of the good HDL cholesterol increases risk for losing brain tissue and developing dementia 20 years later (Brain Imaging and Behavior, September 26, 2018).
More Studies on Lifestyle to Reduce Risk for Dementia
A study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago (Neurology, published online July 10, 2019) followed 2,765 individuals for 10 years and found that older people can reduce their risk for dementia by as much as 60 percent by:
• actively using the brain every day, by writing, playing chess, doing crossword puzzles and so forth
• eating a healthful diet
• avoiding smoke
• avoiding or severely restricting alcohol
• exercising regularly
Their healthful diet consisted mostly of vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry and olive oil, and avoided red meat and processed meats, butter, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried foods. Their exercise program consisted of at least 150 minutes a week of biking, walking, swimming, gardening, yard work or similar activities.
Another study, from Exeter Medical School in England, found that people at high genetic risk for dementia who followed a healthful lifestyle for six years had a 32 percent reduction in developing dementia (JAMA, published online July 14, 2019). Studies presented at the same meeting showed that smoking and excessive drinking increase dementia risk. Other studies found that:
• Regular exercisers have much higher brain function in later life, and exercising in your teens correlates with higher memory scores in later life (Age and Ageing, Mar 1, 2019;48(2):241-246).
• A long-term diet high in vegetables and fruit in middle and late adulthood was associated with less memory loss in men (Neurology, Jan 1, 2019;92(1):e63-e75).
• Being overweight and carrying extra belly fat was associated with dementia and brain shrinkage (Neurology, Jan 9, 2019).
You may be able to prevent or at least to delay Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia with healthful lifestyle habits, such as:
• exercising regularly
• eating a healthful, plant-based diet
• avoiding alcohol and smoking
• exercising your brain with any activity that requires thinking
• avoiding overweight
• avoiding or controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar
See Aging and Risk for Dementia