While we are currently facing a pandemic with a surge of coronavirus cases nationwide, experts warn that dementia, the umbrella term for severe decline in mental ability that includes Alzheimer's disease, will reach epidemic proportions when the first wave of baby boomers hits the age of 85 in 2031. Experts say that besides the emotional devastation caused by dementia, the cost of caring for these patients is estimated to be $220 billion per year.
According to Alzheimers.net, mounting evidence shows that everyday lifestyle choices are the most important factors in reducing our risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Experts say that one-third or more of the Alzheimer's and dementia cases may be prevented by better management of lifestyle factors.
"One in nine people at age 65 suffers from dementia and that number leaps to one in three by the age of 85. Now that we know the scientifically proven lifestyle factors to prevent the disease, the earlier we adopt these changes the more we can reduce our risk," says Dr. Dean Hartley, director of Science Initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association.
Noted expert Dr. Gary Small, author of "2 Weeks to a Younger Brain" and also the Mind-Body Health Report, tells Newsmax that according to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, up to half the Alzheimer's cases are potentially attributable to "modifiable risk factors."
Here are some ways your can reduce your risk of dementia:
- Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
- Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. "It's really a case of use it or lose it," says Hartley. Take classes online or at a local community center or college.
- Butt out. Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer's to that of people who have not smoked. The research is clear that smoking can lead to cognitive decline.
- Follow your heart. The same risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes — negatively impact your cognitive health. "It's really a common sense formula but now we have strong data to support that fact that taking care of your heart also protects your brain health," says Hartley.
- Heads up! Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
- Fuel up right. Eating a balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in fruits and vegetables makes good brain health, notes Hartley. "Our research found that people who followed diets designed to promote cardiovascular health were also more likely to maintain strong cognitive function in old age. In particular, we found that sticking to the MIND diet was associated with 30 to 35 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment in older adults." The MIND diet, which stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, is a hybrid of both diets.
- Catch some ZZZs. Research has found "significant association between sleep disordered breathing and the accumulation of biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease," according to the Alzheimer's Association. See a healthcare professional if you have trouble sleeping.
- Take care of your mental health. Some studies found that a history of depression and stress is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline. "Learn ways to manage your stress, anxiety and other mental health issues," says Hartley.
- Buddy up. Staying socially active may indeed support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you, notes Dr. Small. Find a way to be part of your local community, even during the pandemic.
- Stump yourself. Challenge and activate your mind by doing puzzles and playing games that require strategic thinking like bridge or chess, says Small. "Exercise your brain like you'd exercise your muscles," he says. "Keep challenging yourself."
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