It’s natural to become more concerned about cognitive health as you age. Seniors are at an increased risk for conditions like dementia, which can be a scary prospect. While some factors are beyond our control, there are several things that seniors can do to decrease their risk for developing dementia. Find out more about how dementia affects the brain and what you may be doing right now that could put you at risk for this condition.
How Dementia Works
There are numerous symptoms that can result from problems with brain function. If these symptoms become severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily life, they are referred to as dementia. There isn’t one clear cause of dementia; in fact, various forms of dementia can be caused by different things, such as genetics or the degeneration of nerve cells.
Though all forms of dementia affect intellectual and social abilities, these issues can manifest in different ways. Some of the symptoms that commonly occur with dementia include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty communicating
- Difficulty with planning and organizing
- Difficulty with motor functions and coordination
- Inability to learn or remember new information
- Inability to reason
- Changes in personality
- Inappropriate behavior
What You Can’t Control
Certain risk factors for dementia are beyond our control. The following things that increase the risk for dementia are ones that seniors can’t control:
- Age: Although dementia isn’t a normal part of aging, the risk for several types of dementia increases significantly with age.
- Family history: Those with a family history of dementia are at a greater risk for developing the symptoms described above. There are some genetic mutations that can increase the risk for certain types of dementia. Seniors who are concerned about their family history of dementia can ask their doctor about genetic testing to see if they have any of these mutations.
- Having Down syndrome: Many people who have Down syndrome start to develop some of the characteristics of dementia once they reach middle age.
How You May Be Increasing Your Risk
Unfortunately, many seniors are engaging in regular habits or activities that are increasing their risk for dementia without even realizing it. The following factors contribute to an increased risk for dementia:
- Lack of exercise: Staying physically active is a great way to keep your body healthy – and that includes your brain. Experts recommend exercising for at least 30 minutes at least five times a week. Seniors don’t necessarily have to hit the gym to achieve that goal – anything that gets the heart pumping and leaves you somewhat out of breath (such as a brisk walk) is sufficient.
- Lack of socializing: Keeping up a healthy social life is often recommended for general brain health, and some studies have linked it to a decreased risk for conditions like dementia.
- An unhealthy diet: Poor diet has been linked to poor brain health. Make sure you’re getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, and cut out unhealthy things like processed foods and saturated fats. Foods rich in omega-3 fats, such as oily varieties of fish, are also important.
- High or low blood pressure: When blood pressure levels register as too high or too low, it increases the risk for certain types of dementia.
- High cholesterol: High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (also known as “bad” cholesterol) can increase the risk of developing certain types of dementia.
- Atherosclerosis: This condition occurs when fats build up on the artery walls. Atherosclerosis has been linked to an increased risk for some types of dementia.
- Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes has been linked to an increased risk for certain types of dementia. It’s important to make sure you take steps to prevent this condition. Many people develop type 2 diabetes in mid-life, so try not to put this off till your senior years if possible.
- Obesity: Being seriously overweight or obese is often linked to health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Since these can each increasing the risk of dementia, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight while also keeping an eye on these individual risk factors.
- Smoking: Smoking is bad for your brain. In addition to increasing the risk for dementia, it can also result in low oxygen levels in the brain. Quit smoking as soon as possible to help minimize your risk.
- Heavy drinking: It’s important for seniors to understand that, while heavy drinking can increase your risk for dementia, moderate drinking can actually protect against cognitive decline. As a guideline, moderate drinking is defined as two glasses of wine per day for women and three glasses per day for men.
Remember that dementia cannot be completely prevented or cured. That’s why taking steps to minimize the risk of dementia is such an important step for seniors. The sooner you can start using the tips above, the better. Talk to your doctor if you have any symptoms of dementia or if you have a family history of the condition.