Brain Health and Dementia

Currently, there is no known way to prevent all types of Dementia but growing scientific evidence indicates that by keeping your brain, your body, and your heart healthy, you can reduce your risk of developing Dementia or help to slow the cognitive effects of Dementia. There are some well researched risk factors for the development of Dementia. Researchers have identified the following:

  • Age – As age increases, the risk for Dementia increases. This is due to changes in the body such as cessation of hormone production, higher blood pressure, changes to nerve cells and a general weakening of the body’s immune system.

  • Family history/genetics – Over 20 genes have been identified as affecting the risk of someone developing Dementia, however, the role of genes in Dementia is yet to be fully understood. Having a parent with Dementia does not increase the chances of developing Dementia greatly. However, some families show characteristics of Familial Alzheimer’s disease where a strong pattern of inheritance of Dementia can be seen between generations. This is much rarer.

  • Gender – Women are statistically more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than men. However, for all other Dementias besides Alzheimer’s, men and women face the same risk. For cardiovascular forms of Dementia like vascular Dementia, Men are at a higher risk.

  • Pre-existing medical conditions – Cardiovascular conditions are well understood to pose an increased risk for developing Dementia. These health issues include: Obesity, type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Other conditions such as Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis have also been linked to Dementia, as well as Down’s syndrome and some learning difficulties. 

Leading a healthy brain lifestyle is essential in Dementia prevention and care. By identifying and controlling your personal risk factors, you can maximize your chances of lifelong brain health and preserve your cognitive abilities. Dementia is a complex condition with multiple risk factors. Some, like your age and genetics, are outside your control, however, steps can be taken to prevent the symptoms of Dementia and slow down the process of deterioration. Some important measures to consider:



Physically Activity

Recent studies have shown that doing at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity 3- 5 days a week can vastly improve cognition. It may be able to improve memory and slow cognitive decline. Physical activity can also vastly improve sleep for a person with Dementia as well as offering an opportunity for social interaction. Improving strength and balance can also reduce the risk of falls. There are a number of ways to implement exercise into a person’s life:

  • Walking/Jogging.

  • Swimming.

  • Dancing. 

  • Gardening.

  • Indoor Spin Classes.

  • Tai-Chi or Yoga.

Healthy Diet

The brain requires a regular supply of nutrients in our diet to function and remain healthy. A growing body of evidence suggests that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and cereals, and low in red meat and sugar could help reduce Dementia risks and improve Dementia symptoms. Some key points:

  • Provide a balanced diet with a variety of foods.

  • Limit foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Cholesterol is understood to affect vascular health and can contribute to Dementia risk.

  • Cut down on refined sugars. Often found in processed foods, refined sugars contain calories but lack vitamins, minerals, and fibre.

  • Limit foods with high sodium and use less salt to keep blood pressure healthy and manageable.

Maintain Heart Health

The risk for developing Alzheimer’s or Dementia appears to be related to conditions associated with the heart and its associated blood vessels. The heart and the brain are inextricably linked via blood vessels. Any damage to these blood vessels in the heart, can affect the cells and connections in the brain that we need for memory, thinking, and other functions. By eating nutritious foods, being physically active, and managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol, we can take control of risk factors for Dementia associated with heart health. Some changes you can make:

  • If you smoke, give them up. Cigarettes are a leading cause of heart disease in Ireland. Smokers are up to 40 percent more likely to experience heart-related health issues than non-smokers.

  • Maintain a healthy bodyweight. This reduces stress on the heart and associated organs.

  • Manage stress. Adrenaline and Cortisol increases associated with stress can have a negative consequence on the heart.

  • Go for regular check-ups with your health specialist, to ensure blood pressure, blood-sugar and cholesterol levels are all within a healthy range.​

Maintain healthy levels of mental activity

Recent studies have suggested that older adults without Dementia who participate in more intellectually challenging daily activities, are at a lower risk of developing Dementia. Training your brain with new challenging activities can help build new brain cells and strengthen connections between existing cells. Mental exercise can and should be a very enjoyable for the participant whilst offering cognitive benefits. Some challenging brain exercises include:

  • Puzzles such as Sudoku or Scrabble.

  • Learning a new instrument or language.

  • Participation in leisure activities such as sports, hobbies, dancing, gardening, groups, cultural activities, and lively conversation.

Partaking in social activities

For people living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s, lack of stimulation and social interaction can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction. Social activities can engage and bring pleasure to people living with Dementia while also improving connections in the brain. Activities should aim to:

  • Stir memories and allow them to reminisce about their life.

  • Foster emotional connections with others.

  • Encourage self-expression and creativity.

  • Make them feel more engaged with family, friends, and the community.

  • Help the individual feel more productive and autonomous.

Conclusions

Brain health is considered a hugely important aspect of Dementia and Dementia care. Research is mounting to outline how changes in lifestyle early in life can have a profound impact on later life cognitive function. Nonpharmacological interventions such as diet, mental challenges and socially based interventions are offer encouraging evidence toward the prevention of cognitive decline and Dementia. It is never too late to adopt healthy lifestyle changes to maximize brain health.

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