There is currently around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040. Dementia can be truly heart-breaking for patients and their families. The condition describes different brain disorders that trigger a loss of brain function. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 per cent of those diagnosed.
It is thought that the development of dementia can take decades, but research suggests that around a third of cases of dementia may be due to lifestyle factors that we could change. Read on to find out some simple steps we can all take to help lower our risk.
Nutritional deficiencies may be associated with dementia and cognitive decline in the elderly. The Typical Western Diet, full of processed grains, refined sugars, and high in industrial fats and seed oils, doesn’t provide many nutrient-dense foods. Instead including a diet high in vegetables, fruit and healthy fat and protein sources is key to reducing your chances of dementia.
Because ‘oxidative stress’ and free radical damage contribute to dementia outcomes, diets rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene are beneficial for preventing and supporting the disease. You can find these in fresh vegetables, fruits & nuts especially blueberries, almonds, spinach, broccoli, peppers and kiwi.
The human brain is also 60 percent fat, and almost half of that fat is omega-3 fatty acid. Studies have shown a correlation with a higher intake of oily fish such as salmon or sardines (which contain omega 3) and lower risk of dementia.
Reducing sugar intake and excess snacking can also have a beneficial impact on reducing your risk. High levels of insulin are associated with poor cognition and increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
Reduce stress: Stress is associated with poor memory and cognitive function and also increases inflammation which is thought to impact dementia. Trying daily stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and relaxing therapies can reduce your risk.
Optimize sleep: A build-up of Amyloid-beta Plaques in the brain are a hallmark sign of dementia. The plaques build up, destroy synapses between nerve cells and cause cognitive impairment. However, sleep helps to clear amyloid-beta. By ensuring you prioritise sleep, you are allowing your body’s natural defence against dementia.
Get Moving: Daily movement can support healthy insulin levels, which reduces your risk of dementia, as well as having many other benefits. Exercise also stimulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), also known as ‘miracle grow for the brain’; which plays a crucial role in learning, memory, and mood regulation.
Use your brain: Challenging your mind has long and short-term benefits. It can include anything from taking a class at a local college or online, doing a puzzle, painting or playing a card game.
Stay social: Research links social isolation to a higher risk of dementia. Keeping socially active by connecting with other people, joining clubs or volunteering can be a good way to feel happier, healthier and more positive.
Reduce alcohol & quit smoking: Some studies have found a link between regularly drinking too much alcohol and an increased risk of dementia. Long-term heavy drinking is also known to cause specific alcohol-related dementia, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) therefore cutting down your drinking to once or twice a week can have a major impact on your cognitive health.
There are also many good reasons to stop smoking due to the links to multiple medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Evidence also shows that smoking increases your risk of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.
While it’s never too late to make positive changes, keeping yourself healthy in your forties and fifties seems to be particularly important for helping to lower your risk of dementia.