70 Percent of Americans Skip This Daily Habit That Could Prevent Dementia: Do You?
There's no cure for dementia—but this simple task could lower your risk of developing it.
Dementia—which currently has no known cure—affects more than 55 million people across the globe, reports the World Health Organization (WHO). And with nearly 10 million new cases diagnosed every year, looking for early symptoms of the disease in order to get treatment as soon as possible is important. Avoiding things that can increase your risk of cognitive decline, such as ultra-processed foods, is also vital. "Researchers are still investigating how the condition develops," reports the National Health Service (NHS), which advises that a healthy lifestyle is not only helpful in potentially preventing dementia, but also "cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart attacks, which are themselves risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia (the two most common types of dementia)." One daily habit in particular has been shown to help prevent dementia—and yet many Americans skip it. Read on to find out what it is.
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Millions of people around the world live with dementia.
"Dementia is a group of conditions that are associated with impaired brain functions such as memory loss and impaired ability to perform daily tasks," explains Mahnaz Rashti, DDS. "Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia," she says. "It is a specific disease, while dementia is broader. The main symptoms are memory loss and confusion."
The statistics about dementia paint a frightening picture. With millions of new cases diagnosed each year, dementia is "currently the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases, and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people globally," says the WHO. "Dementia has physical, psychological, social and economic impacts, not only for people living with dementia, but also for their carers, families and society at large."
An article published by the National Library of Medicine estimates that a new case of dementia is diagnosed every seven seconds, and that "the number of people affected will double every 20 years, to 81.1 million by 2040."
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The symptoms of dementia vary.
Memory loss is the symptom most commonly associated with different kinds of cognitive decline, and it is, in fact, often a sign of dementia. "This is because dementia is caused by damage to the brain, and this damage can affect areas of the brain involved in creating and retrieving memories," explains the Alzheimer's Society. "For a person with dementia, memory problems will become more persistent and will begin to affect everyday life." Other well-known warning signs include confusion and poor judgment.
More subtle symptoms of dementia include changes in mood and personality, which can easily be mistaken for other conditions, such as depression and anxiety. When someone's ability to make financially-related decisions changes, that can also be a red flag. "People with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias may start having trouble managing their finances several years before their diagnosis, according to new research supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA)," reports the NIA site.
Healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent cognitive decline.
Studies have shown that living a healthy lifestyle that encompasses the social, emotional, and physical aspects of wellness can help prevent different types of dementia. Medical News Today reports that certain habits have been found to help decrease the risk of cognitive decline. These include drinking in moderation, not smoking, and getting adequate exercise and enough sleep. Social contact is important, too—with an emphasis on having people in your life who will listen to you.
Researchers are also learning more and more about how good oral hygiene can impact various aspects of your health, including brain health. This includes not just brushing your teeth but flossing them as well. Rashti explains that "the bacteria that cause gum disease is also associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease. By maintaining proper oral health and keeping gum disease under control, that prevents the plaque from reaching the brain," she says. "On the other hand, if your oral health is not managed properly, the bacteria can lead to dementia."
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Flossing your teeth, not just brushing them, can help decrease your risk of dementia.
Many people think that brushing their teeth every day is enough to constitute good oral hygiene, but flossing your teeth as well is vital. "Food that's left between teeth causes gum inflammation and tooth decay. Flossing is the only way to remove it," Sivan Finkel, DMD, told WebMD. "A toothbrush just can't get between teeth." WebMD reports that people who brush and floss regularly aren't as likely to have bleeding gums. "They had lower levels of gum inflammation (called gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease), too," says the site.
So what's the link between flossing and dementia? "The bacteria that cause gum disease is also associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease," cautions Rashti. "By maintaining proper oral health and keeping gum disease under control, that prevents the plaque from reaching the brain."
Rashti explains that an oral hygiene routine that includes both brushing and flossing regularly has many benefits. "It reduces the chance of tooth decay," she says. "It also reduces tooth sensitivity and risk of cavities." And the Mayo Clinic explains that oral health is linked to different diseases and conditions, which includes heart health.
Nearly 70 percent of Americans don't floss daily.
Duong T. Nguyen, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), led a study that looked at the flossing habits of just over 9,000 American adults age 30 and over between 2009 and 2012, as per U.S. News and World Report. The study found that over 32 percent of respondents never flossed at all, and more than 37 percent reported "less than daily flossing." More men than women said they never flossed—with 39 percent of men skipping the healthy habit altogether, while only 27 percent of women didn't floss at all. And a whopping 45 percent of people age 75 and older admitted that they didn't ever floss.
Matthew Messina, DDS, told the outlet that he thought most dentists would guess the number of non-daily flossers as even lower, closer to 90 percent. "That two-thirds of patients are flossing daily or regularly is probably good news," he said.