Research is demonstrating that treating multiple risk factors for dementia results in better outcomes than treating each factor individually. Risk factors include:
- Poor nutrition
- physical inactivity
- cardiovascular risks
- social isolation
- lack of mental stimulation
Strategies to help deal with these risks have been shown to help improve cognitive performance. Just treating single variables such as high blood pressure or lack of exercise has less effect than hitting multiple factors at once. A study in Lancet Neurology (August 2014) revealed that one-third of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) cases are attributable to modifiable factors and thus AD may be reduced in prevalence by improved education , treatment of depression, and management of vascular risk factors such as physical inactivity, smoking, hypertension, obesity, and diabetes.
- Get regular exercise: this reduces stress, improves blood flow to the brain, strengthens connection of neurons in the brain, improves medical health and balance, thus reducing falls. The goal is 30 minutes of aerobic activity five times a week (walking, dancing, biking as examples) and strength training twice a week.
- Challenge your brain: Demanding brain activities utilizing different aspects of your intellect help protect against cognitive decline, making your mind more efficient and able to focus. So expose yourself to new ideas and challenges mentally, so that you can maintain your memory skills and concentration abilities. Things like cross-word puzzles, checkers or cards help build up your brain as do math problems. Research shows that staying intellectually engaged may prevent AD. These types of brain challenges add to your cognitive reserve. Social interaction also plays a role in preventing cognitive decline. It has been found that those who play more games or puzzles were more likely to perform better on test of memory, learning, and information processing. They also have greater brain volume in areas associated with memory. Mental workouts enhance brain blood flow and promote cell growth, stronger neuron connections, and keep the brain efficient. It makes the brain less sensitive to trauma such as drugs, stroke, or disease. The internet has resources to help: http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/ or http://sporcle.com/ or http://syvum.com/teasers/ or http://www.braingle.com/ or http://www.billsgames.com/brain-teasers/ So consider crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, word searches, math problems, an brainteasers to exercise your mind!
- Treat mental illness, especially depression: Sadness, hopelessness, and lack of energy may signal depression. Depression is associated with a high risk of cognitive decline. See your doctor to help get treatment.
- Eat a healthy diet: Eat complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid sodas, sweets, and excess sugars. Protein is essential for growth and cell maintenance, so consider lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, low fat dairy, nuts, and beans. Chose healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseed oil, fish, and nuts. Monounsaturated fats are also healthful and is present in olive and canola oils. Polyunsaturated fats from corn, safflower, and sunflower seeds are fine as well. Avoid trans-fats. Remember to include your micronutrients and phytochemicals (found in plant sources).
- Treat cardiovascular risks: Stop smoking, lose weight, be physically active, treat high blood pressure and diabetes, take your prescribed medications.
Avoid Trans-fats in your diet. It is found in many junk foods, especially fast foods, processed foods, baked goods, margarine, and other sources. These products and trans-fats perform about 10% worse on cognitive tests than those who consumed minimal amounts. Trans-fats promote oxidative stress and damage the memory center of the brain, the hippocampus.
Magnesium is essential for brain functioning. It is found in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and hard water. Magnesium helps in energy production, needed especially in the brain. It helps in the formation and release of neurotransmitters as well as functioning of connections in the brain (synapses) to process new information. Studies in Molecular Brain (September 2014) demonstrated that magnesium L-threonate (MgT) supplementation prevented memory decline and prevented synapse loss in mice prone to AD. It also reduced the deposition of beta-amyloid protein in the brain (a cause of AD) Risk factors for magnesium depletion include chronic alcoholism, diabetes, excessive coffee intake, inflammatory bowel disease such as Chrone’s disease, diuretic intake, liver and kidney disease, and excessive soda and salt intake.The RDA is 400 mg a day – http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/ This link points to sources of magnesium for your diet. Foods included are Almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, shredded wheat cereal, soy milk, black beans, whole wheat bread, avocado, baked potato, brown rice, plain yogurt, and others.
This sounds dumb but avoid head injury – it has been shown that older adults who have a head injury are at higher risk of dementia, especially over the age of 65. The main reason for these injuries are falls, many of which are preventable and may be due to deconditioning and weakness from lack of exercise. Remember that exercise increases strength and balance.
Remember to not be anxious over your health – don’t become a hypochondriac. Maintain your health through proper eating, exercise, risk management of cardiovascular problems (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking cessation), taking your prescribed medications, and regular physician check-ups will maximize your health. Don’t get preoccupied with health matters and fears of disease such that they interfere with your daily activities and enjoyments in life. Keep yourself busy and distracted by learning new tasks and volunteering. Consider meditation, relaxing your body and mind, concentrating on the present moment. Exercise your body to reduce stress and reduce your anxiety. This will build your physical strength and increase your feelings of well-being. Keep your head up with positive feeling and be grateful for the good things in your life and those things you can control. Don’t stress out!!