Is Dementia Preventable?
Anyone who has lived through the painful decline or loss of a loved one to Alzheimer’s or dementia has asked this question. The experts have been struggling with it for decades with differing conclusions. But all sides do share some encouraging common ground.
Since research began in earnest in the 1980’s, the quest has been for a cure for this debilitating condition that robs one of their memories and essential identity. Due to very disappointing outcomes in the last decade’s research, the word “cure” has largely dropped out of the fundraising conversations and scientists have turned their sights upon prevention.
There is good news here! The same things that promote heart health also promote brain health, so we get a double hit of benefit with every decision and effort we make. And the greater the compliance with a health regimen the higher correlation with increased “health span” – not just living longer, but living well – feeling good through our advancing years, and avoiding or minimizing the chronic ailments of our modern age.
Science and medicine have done a good job of increasing lifespan, but it is on us to live into those years with energy and vitality. Here are the ideas that all sides agree are important for brain health and the greatest chances of preventing or minimizing cognitive loss.
• Lead with your heart!
All of your “blood numbers” matter in brain health: blood pressure, cholesterol, and most importantly blood sugar! (More on this in the future.) Keeping these within the recommended ranges is a primary brain booster!
• Feed your brain!
“Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.
(Apples are food, Twinkies are not.)”
SO much has been written and spoken about diet! Hard to get a good grasp! But these simple words by Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and Food Rules, sums it up pretty clearly. High antioxidant foods are particularly brain-healthy. Berries and leafy greens have been shown to offer an especially noteworthy boost for the gray matter.
• Movin’ & Groovin’
Healthy food choices and regular exercise are the two most significant contributors to demonstrate a reduced incidence of dementia. These have been shown repeatedly in studies to increase well-being in every regard and to protect that precious bundle of tissues inside our skulls. Choose something, anything that you enjoy, that moves your muscles, lymph, and blood!
• Use it or lose it!
We have heard this for decades in reference to muscle mass, but it is equally true of mental mass. Reading, games, foreign languages, making music, etc. all support the brain cells and synaptic connections that are present. Anything that is new and challenging to us can stimulate new growth that is protective of mental capacity.
Social and familiar connections are often lost as a person ages; life changes can lead to isolation. This can be devastating to brain health. Connecting with others in positive and meaningful ways is important for cognitive stability. Conversing, joining a club or class, and volunteering are all ways to keep the “head lights” on and the brain cells humming!
So we encourage you to try some new things to add to your Health Treasure Chest so together we can “Live long! Live well! Love Life!”
• Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline
Evidence Reports/Technology Assessments, No. 193
John W Williams, MD, MPH, Brenda L Plassman, Ph.D., James Burke, MD, Ph.D., Tracey Holsinger, MD, and Sophiya Benjamin, MD.
Duke Evidence-based Practice Center, Durham, North Carolina
Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2010 Apr.
Report No.: 10-E005 (search online for the full abstract)
- The New Diet That Could Lower Your Alzheimer’s Risk By 53%. Prevention Magazine
- Maintain Your Brain, Alzheimer’s Association, San Diego, CA