There are various types of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The causes of dementia vary depending on the type of disease a person has, and whilst in some circumstances it can be relieved by medical treatment, there is currently no means by which to completely ‘cure’ it.
Age is a significant factor in your chances of developing dementia, however it is thought that genetics and lifestyle can also contribute. Although research is ongoing, it is thought that by introducing small changes in earlier life, you may be able to reduce your risk of developing dementia later on.
The general rule of thumb is that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain, and it’s never too late to start. Here are five simple changes you can make to give your brain a better chance of staying healthy:
1. Get Physical
It is well documented that regular exercise can help control weight, blood pressure, plus reduce the risk of some forms of cancer and type two diabetes. Evidence suggests it can also help lower the risk of developing dementia by preserving hippocampal volume - the first part of the brain attacked by Alzheimer’s. A study by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease even concluded that jogging 15 miles per week could reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by 40%!
Any form of physical activity will improve your health; from brisk walks, swimming and cycling to dancing and even gardening. Try to notch up at least 30 minutes of gentle exercise five days a week. Being active is proven to give a ‘feel good factor’, plus it can be a great way of socialising.
Make sure you talk to your doctor If you have any health conditions that may affect your ability to exercise.
2. Take Heart
Keeping your heart healthy will help prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity, which in turn will help reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but also the chances of developing dementia later in life.
Smoking and alcohol are not only bad for your heart and lungs but are also linked to an increased risk of dementia. Try to kick the habit of smoking and limit alcohol consumption to two unit measures at any one time. A report from the World Health Organization found that smokers have a 45% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers and claimed that 14% of all dementia cases could possibly be attributed to smoking.
3. Eat Healthy
It is common knowledge that a diet of fatty, processed foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. There is good evidence that a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fish, chicken, olive oil and other foods high in omega-3 could improve cognition and lower the risk of cognitive decline, thus reducing the risk of developing some forms of dementia. Omega-3 fatty acids can control blood clotting, build cell membranes in the brain, protect against heart disease and brain atrophy and slow Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Vitamin K, found in green leafy vegetables or as a supplement, is now also thought to play a critical part in anti-aging and may prevent Alzheimer’s.
A study from Vanderbilt University found that drinking fruit and vegetable juices more than three times a week could cut the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 76%.
Another study completed early in 2014 showed that a compound called fisetin, commonly found in strawberries and mangos has anti-inflammatory properties that could affect the onset of Alzheimer’s.
In short, plenty of fish, chicken, natural oils, green veg and fresh fruit could keep your brain much healthier for much longer.
4. Get Thinking
It is widely thought that giving your brain regular new challenges can help regenerate brain cells and strengthen the connections between existing cells, which may counter the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia pathologies.
Activities that stretch your mind and make you think such as reading, puzzles, crosswords and games like chess, bridge or mahjong are all excellent ways of keeping the brain engaged. Or try challenging your brain to learn new things such as a new language, a musical instrument or take up a new hobby or sport.
5. Be Sociable
Spending time with friends and family or being an active member of the community is thought to be highly beneficial for brain health as it stimulates our brain reserves, helping reduce the risk of developing dementia and depression. Researchers have also found that laughter is more than good for the soul. Being active, laughing and socialising helps grow new brain cells, and ultimately prevent Alzheimer’s.
You can even combine social activities with physical and mental exercise through sport or other hobbies.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know is showing signs of dementia, see your GP for a full assessment.