Dementia is a significant worldwide health issue of the 21st century. Is it possible to delay the onset of the disease and if so, are there things we can do to help us reduce the risk of dementia?
There are seven key risk factors that can be modified to prevent dementia onset and three non-modifiable risk factors that cannot be altered. The risk factors that cannot be modified are your gender, ageing and genetics (we are not yet able to measure genetic risk for dementia).
Modifiable risk factors are those that you can change, or impact to reduce your risk of developing dementia.
The seven modifiable risk factors are:
- Diabetes (type 2)
- Midlife hypertension and high cholesterol
- Low education level
- Physical inactivity
- Obesity in midlife
Ageing increases the risk of dementia, and with an increasing ageing population with more people living longer, the prevalence of dementia is increasing.
So, at what age can we make changes to the modifiable risk factors? The answer is ANY age! We should try our best to be healthy at every age: a healthy body is a healthy brain.
What you can do to reduce your risk:
*** Type 2 Diabetes is preventable with diet and exercise. Obesity and alcohol increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle choices can be changed to help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and in doing so, reduce your risk of developing dementia.
*** Physical activity improves sleep, helps control weight, manages cholesterol and blood pressure, and improves mental health. A lifelong accumulation of exercise can help lead to a greater cognitive outcome. Exercise has a direct affect on the brain by increasing brain blood flow. It can help to improve memory, release necessary hormones and enzymes and is great socially for your mental health and stress reduction. It is never too late to start exercising!
*** Smoking causes health complications and increases your risk of dementia by 70 per cent in older people with every 20 cigarettes smoked per day. Smoking decreases respiratory and vascular function, increasing your risk of stroke and heart disease. Quitting smoking will be one of the best things you can do for your body and brain!
*** Socialising reduces dementia risk and helps to maintain brain function by the frequency and quality of people’s social interaction with friends, family and others. Withdrawal and depression are the main signs of dementia onset. Several depression episodes in a lifetime can have a greater impact of dementia occurring, as stress hormones cause damage to parts of the brain. Entering the retirement phase of life restricts social networks and reduces your interactions with others, so at that stage of life, it’s important to increase involvement in interest groups, meet new people, do physical activities and start new hobbies.
*** Education prevents cognitive decline, as education is protective for the brain. Regular mental activity keeps the brain healthy and strong. Early education in life is important in development and function of the brain. It’s important to participate in activities that stimulate cognitive function. For example, learning a new skill, a new language, reading, challenging yourself to learn new things on a regular basis and new leisure activities helps attention, memory, processing and intellect.
*** A healthy diet promotes brain health and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes. Alcohol in moderation is okay but if in excess, this will increase your risk of alcohol-related dementias.
It is never too late to start preventing dementia.
As we get older we think that certain health complications are unavoidable and hence some people do not take steps to avoid certain risk factors that are preventable or modifiable.
The brain is amazingly adaptable! Change your beliefs, make a plan of action to implement change and monitor your behaviour and make sure to both give and get support from friends and family.
At The Physio Co, we can help you, your older relations or friends make positive lifestyle changes, like increasing your activity levels to reduce your risk of dementia. Dementia is not a normal part of ageing. We can make changes to prevent its onset. And remember, it’s never too late!
Article written by Karleen Scott (TPC Team Leader / Physiotherapist – SA)