10 Things You Can Do Today to Lower Your Risk of Dementia
These healthy habits are small changes that can may a big difference.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than six million adults in the United States are living with Alzheimer's disease, one of the most common forms of dementia. And by 2050, that number is expected to jump to 13 million. What's more, one in three seniors in the U.S. dies with some form of dementia, which means it is responsible for more senior deaths than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. And while there is no cure for dementia, there are things you can do that reduce your risk of developing some form of serious cognitive decline. Read on to discover 10 things you can start doing today to lower your dementia risk.
One easy way you can possibly lower your risk of developing dementia is by enjoying a daily cup of tea.
In a 2016 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, researchers from the National University of Singapore set out to examine whether or not regularly consuming tea could have an effect on the onset of dementia. To do this, they used 957 participants from China aged 55 and older to conduct a longitudinal study.
Results found that those who drank tea every day saw their risk of developing dementia reduced by 50 percent. In the case of participants who carry the APOE e4 gene—a gene that puts people at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer's disease—daily tea drinkers saw their risk of cognitive decline drop by as much as 86 percent.
Studies have provided evidence that there is a likely link between regular aerobic exercise and brain health, particularly when it comes to cognitive decline. One March 2021 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease monitored two groups of participants over a one-year period. One group engaged in three to five weekly stretching sessions, each lasting 30 to 40 minutes, while the other group was assigned three to five weekly brisk walks, also each lasting 30 to 40 minutes.
According to the results, those who fell in the aerobic group displayed less stiff blood vessels in their necks and had more blood flow to their brains. Those who stretched didn't experience similar changes.
"This is part of a growing body of evidence linking exercise with brain health," study leader Rong Zhang, PhD, professor of neurology at the University of Texas Southwestern, said in a statement. "We've shown for the first time in a randomized trial in these older adults that exercise gets more blood flowing to your brain."
Setting aside a few minutes a day to meditate can not only provide some peace of mind, but it may in fact lower your risk of developing dementia, according to one 2018 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
Over a 12-week period, scientific researchers examined 60 older adults who had previously reported trouble with their memory. Participants were split into two groups, where they were instructed to either listen to music for 12 minutes or practice a 12-minute yoga meditation known as Kirtan Kriya daily.
The research team took blood from the participants before and after the three-month study to record indicators of Alzheimer's disease. Results showed that those who practiced meditation saw major changes by the end of the study in the biological markers that would put them at a higher risk for Alzheimer's disease, with the same participants reporting improvements in cognitive function, sleep, mood, and quality of life.
Eat a heart-healthy diet.
According to the Alzheimer's Association: "Current evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating may also help protect the brain."
A heart-healthy diet is one that limits your intake of sugar and saturated fats and includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. And while there is no one perfect diet, the Alzheimer's Association recommends the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet.
The DASH diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils. It also says to limit sodium, sweets, sugary beverages, and red meats. The Mediterranean diet consists of relatively little red meat, and plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and healthy fats such as nuts and olive oil.
Practice good oral hygiene.
If you already brush your teeth twice a day and practice other healthy oral hygiene habits, you may already be one step ahead when it comes to lowering your risk of developing dementia.
In a study conducted by NYU's College of Dentistry and Weill Cornell Medicine, and recently published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring, researchers collected oral swabs and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples from 48 participants over the age of 65 who exhibited no signs of dementia.
The study found that patients who had higher levels of good bacteria in their mouths had lower levels of amyloids in their spinal fluid. And according to previous studies, amyloids are the protein that can build up in the nervous system, forming plaques that can interfere with neural signals firing that eventually leads to cell death and dementia, as the New York Post reports.
Control high blood pressure.
Having high blood pressure is associated with an array of serious health problems, including increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and dementia, experts say.
"High blood pressure, or hypertension, has harmful effects on the heart, blood vessels, and brain, and increases the risk of stroke and vascular dementia," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). "Treating high blood pressure with medication and healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercising and quitting smoking, may help reduce the risk of dementia."
Keep your mind active.
In addition to staying physically active, staying mentally engaged is key to lowering your risk of dementia. Activities such as reading, playing board games, crafting or taking up a new hobby, learning a new skill, working or volunteering, and socializing, are all effective ways to keep your mind sharp, the HHS says.
In fact, one 2003 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals who regularly read had a lower risk of dementia.
Establish healthy sleep habits.
According to researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2018, a lack of sleep increases the amount of beta-amyloid—a protein linked to Alzheimer's disease—in the brain. What's more, just a single night of sleep deprivation increased beta-amyloid levels by five percent among study subjects. So, make sure you're getting substantial shut-eye every night.
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Maintain a healthy weight.
Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can help you achieve what you and your doctor have decided is a healthy weight, but once you reach that target goal, it's just as important to then avoid any drastic fluctuations.
One 2019 study published in the journal BMJ Open examined 67,219 older adults and found that those who experienced a 10 percent or higher increase or decrease in BMI over a two-year period had a greater risk of dementia compared to those with a stable weight.
Limit your drinking.
A 2018 study published in The Lancet Public Health journal found that of 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia, a startling 57 percent were somehow related to chronic heavy drinking.
However, that doesn't mean you have to avoid alcohol altogether. In fact, a June 2020 study out of the University of Georgia found that "compared to non-drinkers, those that had one or two drinks a day tended to perform better on cognitive tests over time."
The study, which spanned 10 years, found that participants who engaged in light to moderate drinking—meaning fewer than eight drinks per week for women and 15 drinks or fewer for men—scored higher on cognitive tests and had lower rates of decline in every area.