• Shawn Wilson, M.A.

Nine Ways to Prevent Dementia

Photo credit: Swaraj Tiwari

Millions of people around the world suffer from dementia and the global cost of dementia is hundreds of billions of dollars. As such, findings ways to prevent or reduce the impact of dementia is a high priority for public health. As reported by the BBC, the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care looked at the latest research for treating dementia and wrote a paper summarizing this research and provided best practices for treating and preventing dementia.

Overall, over one-third of the risk for dementia can be reduced with lifestyle changes. Here are the nine risk factors, in order from most to least influential, along with the corresponding percentage that the risk factor contributes to the development of dementia:

1. Hearing loss (9.1%)

2. Education no greater than primary school (7.5%)

3. Smoking (5.5%)

4. Depression (4.0%)

5. Lack of physical exercise (2.6%)

6. Social isolation (2.3%)

7. Hypertension (2.0%) 8. Diabetes (1.2%)

9. Obesity (0.8%)

The study separates the risk factors into early life (younger than 18 years old; education), midlife (age 45 to 65; hearing loss, hypertension, obesity), and later life (over 65 years old; smoking, depression, exercise, social isolation, diabetes).

Perhaps the most surprising risk factor is how important hearing loss is for the development of dementia. This is reportedly an understudied and undertreated problem and the mechanisms through which hearing loss are related to dementia are currently not clear. It could be that hearing loss leads to greater isolation and depression, which in turn lead to dementia. Or perhaps the changes in the brain that lead to dementia also lead to hearing loss and so there is a third variable that better explains the relationship.

Other risk factors that were not discussed due to the lack of quality research, but may impact dementia, include sleep problems and alcohol use.

Given these risk factors, what changes can people make to reduce their dementia risk? Here are some of the suggestions outlined by the Lancet article:

1. Eat healthy foods: Given the importance of diet, research indicates that adhering to the Mediterranean diet can be beneficial.

2. Exercise frequently: Whether it is walking or practicing yoga, exercise can indirectly help by reducing targeting other risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

3. Hang out with other people: Spending time with others reduces social isolation as well as depressive symptoms.

4. Challenge your brain: Engage in cognitively challenging activities that you find entertaining, whether it is reading a book, completing a crossword puzzle, playing Sudoku, or playing a board game.

5. Use medications (as prescribed): There is evidence that taking blood pressure medication (i.e., antihypertensive drugs such as indapamide), when prescribed by a physician, can reduce the risk of dementia. Make sure to check in regularly with a medical provider to monitor your blood pressure.

As previously mentioned, just over one-third of dementia risk is attributable to changeable factors, while approximately 65% of dementia risk cannot be changed. These non-modifiable factors include genetic contributions to dementia such as the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) ε4 allele.

While a greater amount of risk is from factors that we cannot control, this does not mean it is pointless to change the factors we can. Indeed, millions of people will never develop dementia if the interventions outlined in the Lancet article are followed through. No time like the present to make some of these lifestyle changes, your future cognitive health depends upon it!

Article link: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-40655566

The Clinically Relevant Insights Blog, part of ShawnWilsonPhD.com, is a blog that shares news and research regarding psychology and wellness.

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© 2020 by Shawn Wilson