When we see a loved one with dementia, it’s natural we seek out ways how to prevent dementia from progressing.
How to prevent dementia?
Put simply, there is no pharmaceutical cure to prevent dementia and Alzheimers.
However, while we are often told there is nothing we can do to prevent dementia, there is contrasting research emerging that is much more encouraging.
With many schools of thought on ways to reduce the risk and potentially slow the progression of dementia, there is one thing in common. – Lifestyle changes.
In this blog post, we will explore the different lifestyle changes you or a loved one can introduce into your life to help prevent dementia from progressing and even developing.
Why does dementia develop?
As we age, the risk of dementia dramatically increases. Dementia causes the cell function between brain cells to cease, resulting in damage to the brain.
There are theories that suggest the effects of dementia can be decreased by developing connections between brain cells, thus enabling brain function to be maintained longer despite the damage.
There are certain risk factors that increase your chances of developing dementia. Risk factors that are difficult or near impossible to control include genes and age.
Other risk factors include low education, hearing loss, untreated depression, loneliness and even sitting for most of the day.
The NHS website has advice on dementia prevention and suggests that we should modify risk factors we can change (through lifestyle changes), therefore reducing the risk of dementia by a third.
Preventative measures to reduce the chances of dementia
In no particular order, below we talk about the different factors that can influence dementia.
- A healthy diet
- A healthy heart
- Not smoking
- Low alcohol consumption
- Being physically active
- A healthy heart
- Being mentally active
- Being socially active
- Reducing the risk of head injuries
- Get better sleep
- Reduce Stress
Health professionals all seem to agree that diet has a huge effect on the chances of dementia developing.
People who are overweight in their middle age are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and this rose to three times the risk for obese people.
Diets high in fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, fish and olive oil such as the Mediterranean diet, has been proven to dramatically reduce the risk of dementia.
Having a healthy weight results in a much healthier brain. The body requires multiple nutrients and vitamins to maintain optimal efficiency, this enables stronger blood flow to the brain tissues to get the required nutrients and oxygen.
So throw away that processed food, reduce your takeaways and introduce more healthy home cooking!
A healthy heart
The heart and the brain are linked more closely than you may think.
Ensuring a healthy heart is crucial to lowering the risk of dementia.
High blood pressure is often linked to an increased risk of dementia. This is due to small blood vessels in the brain responsible for cognition and memory getting damaged.
People who regularly check their blood pressure are more likely to manage their blood pressure levels which leads to healthier hearts.
Smoking dramatically impairs the circulation of blood around the body, including those to the brain. Arteries shrink, which then raises blood pressure.
Low alcohol consumption
With high levels of alcohol consumption, your chances of alcohol-related brain damage significantly increase.
The recommended units of alcohol consumption limit drinking to 14 units of alcohol a week. If you find you are drinking more than this, try to space out your drinking by three days as you work towards reducing your consumption.
Introduce new non-alcoholic beverages that you can enjoy as an alternative to reaching for the booze.
Being physically active
Regular physical exercise not only aids a healthy heart and cardiovascular system which reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s by 50%, but studies show that it can slow further deterioration in people who have begun to develop cognitive problems. This is because exercise stimulates the brain’s ability to maintain old connections as well as make new ones by increasing the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain.
Introduce light to moderate exercise for only 150 minutes a week. Go for a walk, cycle or even swim.
Being mentally active
Ever heard the saying, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”?
This is certainly true when it comes to the performance of your brain. The Alzheimer’s Foundation informs us that someone must show adverse changes in two of the following to be diagnosed: Behaviour, Judgement, Thinking, Language and Memory.
Engaging in mentally stimulating and challenging activities has been proven to significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia. And those who engaged in mental training that included multitasking, communication, interaction and organization seem to offer the best protection.
This is because activities that require mental stimulation, concentration, focus and problem-solving help maintain connections between the neurons in the brain. Mind stimulation increases the number of brain cells while strengthening them.
Learning shouldn’t stop when you leave school. Try learning something new to continually challenge your brain. While children pick up learning new skills easily, it doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the same results later in life- even if it does take you longer!
So learn a new language, a musical instrument or any new skill. With regular practice, you’ll see results. Any activities that enable visualization whilst using your limbs will further stimulate the brain.
Other ways to improve mental activity include practising memorisation techniques, strategy games, puzzles and even riddles. Try to vary activities from day to day to keep challenging the brain.
Being socially active
While you may not think it, being sociable is a great way to stimulate the mind. Engaging in conversation involves the connections that develop between neurons. Studies show that seniors that regularly socialise have less cognitive decline.
We are social creatures after all, and we’ve evolved to thrive and desire social connections. Maintaining a strong connection with friends and family is a highly influential way to minimise dementia developing.
You can meet new groups by visiting your local community centre, join a club, talk to your neighbours, make regular dates with friends, attending church or even volunteering for local community activities.
Reducing the risk of head injuries
With over 30 years of research, it has been proven that moderate and severe traumatic brain injuries are linked to a greater risk of developing dementia.
It’s becoming more recognised that repeated small injuries to the brain through contact sports are an increased risk of developing dementia. Sports such as boxing, American football, rugby, football and hockey are some of the highest at risk.
More research is needed to find out why this happens, but there is a lot of evidence to prove the increased risk with traumatic brain injury and dementia.
Protect your head when you can. Eliminate tripping hazards at home, wear a helmet if you ride a bike and even practice balancing improving exercises such as yoga.
The link between depression and dementia is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. While having untreated depression can result in dementia, it is also likely that dementia can cause depression.
Depression can result in a low mood and anxiety which can severely impact your ability to look after your health. Making it harder to take part in exercising, engaging in social situations and even mental exercise.
The NHS has a very useful link to see if you have depression and provides advice on getting the right treatment and support to make a full recovery. You can view the link here.
Get better sleep
A lack of good quality sleep each night can cause a whirlwind of health problems. Your body needs sleep and rest to make recoveries from the day. This includes flushing toxins from the brain. Poor sleep can result in high levels of beta-amyloid– a sticky protein that appears in the brain. This is harmful to the brain as sleep is necessary for memory formation.
Therefore, poor sleep results in your risk of dementia increasing. It can slow your thinking and affect your mood as well as daily function.
Try these tips for improved sleep:
- Stick to a bedtime routine to reinforce the natural circadian rhythms in your brain. It’s proven that the brain responds to regularity.
- Keep the bedroom for relaxing activities only. Don’t take work, TV or computers into your bedroom, keep it a safe haven for sleeping and reducing stimulation for easier nodding off to sleep.
- Try reading before bed from a book to relax you.
- Introduce a bedtime routine. We are advised to do this for babies, so why not continue a relax inducing bedtime routine. Have a bath, listen to relaxing music and even introduce relaxing smells such as lavender with dimmed lights. Over time- this repetitive routine will send signals to the brain and enable you to relax easier.
Find useful ways to manage your stress. Chronic or persistent stress can lead to unseen trauma to your body. Including taking a very heavy toll on the brain long term! Stress causes the brain to shrink in the section of the brain that controls memory. This massively increases the risk of dementia.
There are many activities you can introduce into your lifestyle to help manage your stress.
Meditation has been proven to go a long way to relax your mind and body, thus reducing stress and its effects. Find your own relaxation techniques to help you unwind and switch off from the chaos in your life. This can include self-reflection, prayer, yoga or even a nice relaxing massage now and again.
Schedule in relaxation and fun time.
If you’re pedal to the metal consistently with work or other stressors, it’s time to take a step back and allow yourself some fun time. Schedule in a routine where you allow yourself to partake in your hobbies and allow your brain to switch off from your responsibilities. Work hard= play hard. There is a reason this phrase exists, without the joy in life you’ll burn out and crash.
Laughing is one of the best ways to reduce stressors and lift your mood. Laughing releases feel-good endorphins that are crucial to battering away stress.
Change your perspective.
If you’ve tried everything then maybe changing the goalposts of what you want in life can dramatically reduce your stress. Do you hold yourself to unattainable or even empty goals? Be realistic with what you want to achieve and ask yourself is it worth attaining for the long-term risk to your health?
We know that dementia is a complex condition that can present itself in a myriad of different ways. If you’ve witnessed a loved one living with dementia it can be a very scary and upsetting time watching their abilities worsen over time.
There is considerable progress being made into the understanding of how dementia develops and the different causes that result in dementia.
By introducing the lifestyle changes recommended above you may be able to dramatically reduce the risk to you developing the condition.
In some circumstances, you may even be able to prevent dementia from progressing and slow down its effects.
We hope you’ve found some answers on how to prevent dementia from progressing. For more information on activities, you can introduce for someone living with dementia, take a look at our post on reminiscence activities. You may find the activities mentioned worthwhile. Here’s the link to the article: The relevance of memory studies to Reminiscence activities.