Dementia terrifies many people for good reason. The idea of losing control of your mind understandably concerns you, especially if you’ve witnessed the cognitive decline of a loved one. The condition destroys your golden years, a time of life you likely look forward to as a welcome respite after a lifetime of labor. What can you do to reduce your dementia risk? Making simple changes can decrease your likelihood of contracting the disorder. It all begins with adopting a healthier lifestyle overall and taking specific measures to boost your brainpower.
1. Understand Your Risk Factors
If one of your older family members suffered dementia, you likely know you stand a higher chance of developing the disorder yourself. Family history isn’t the only risk factor, though — it’s simply one you can’t control. Other factors also contribute to your risk. Talk to your primary care physician about having a dementia screening. Before your visit, research online assessments you can take with you to your doctors’ visit to share symptoms if any are present. Many such tools also contain resources to help you prepare more effectively for your visit.
2. Take Action on Hearing Loss
Did you know that people could prevent up to 35 percent of dementia cases by making lifestyle changes? Many seniors consider losing their hearing as a natural part of the aging process. They may forego necessary hearing aids out of pride or for financial reasons. However, going without such assistance increases their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Loss of hearing contributes to cognitive decline. Plus, much of your sensory input stems from what you hear. When you lose this sense, you decrease the number of outside stimuli you expose your mind to. This contributes to feelings of isolation and depression, as well.
3. Get Your Body Moving
Exercise increases blood flow to your brain, bathing neurons in life-giving oxygen. A growing body of literature supports the efficacy of workouts, particularly aerobic ones, in preventing dementia. Experts recommend taking 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly complemented by at least two strength-training sessions. This sounds like a lot, but it equates to only 30 minutes per day most days of the week. You can invest in inexpensive resistance bands, find training videos free on YouTube and get your toning groove on while you watch TV.
4. Eat a Rainbow Daily
Phytonutrients consist of the chemicals in plants that give vegetables and fruits their vibrant hues. Different ones have beneficial effects on human health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that eating a diet rich in phytonutrients effectively decreases cancer and heart disease risk. When selecting produce, opt for veggies and fruits with the brightest colors. Strive to buy locally grown produce that’s in season. It’s more nutrient-dense, plus you reduce your carbon footprint since it requires less transport.
5. Adopt a Mediterranean Diet
Many physicians and nutritionists swear by the Mediterranean diet if you want to improve your overall health. The American Stroke Association suggests eating fish at least twice weekly for vascular health. One 2016 study revealed eating seafood once per week for a year resulted in less decline in certain types of memory and an increase in mental processing speed. Although more recent studies show little effect from taking fish oil supplements, a Mediterranean diet rich in seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, and complex grains like quinoa benefits overall health. It helps you maintain a healthy weight, easing stress on blood vessels, including those in the brain. Plus, the increased energy you’ll experience makes exercise easier.
6. Rescue a Pet
When older individuals begin experiencing cognitive decline, they often isolate themselves from others. This leads to increased loneliness and depression, both of which elevate dementia risk. Adopting a pet gives you someone who loves you unconditionally. It can get you out and moving, too, depending on the type you select. If you choose to adopt a dog, for example, you can join a walking club to meet new friends and exercise yourself and your pooch. If physical limitations such as rheumatoid arthritis render regular impact-based exercise difficult, you can reap similar mental-health benefits by adopting a cat or even a hamster. Knowing another living being depends on your care gives you the strength to keep going on difficult days.
7. Do Talk to Strangers
When you were little, your parents probably told you to never talk to strangers. Now that you’re an adult, reaching out to others helps build new neural connections. Strike up a chat with the person standing in line behind you at the grocery store. If you use public transportation, initiate a conversation with the person next to you on the bus. Get involved in volunteering opportunities to meet new people. Such activities benefit you, especially if you’re introverted. Since you’re already working together on a project, conversation flows more readily.
8. Play Games
Do your grandchildren come to visit regularly? Lucky you! When they do, break out the Scrabble or the Monopoly board. Playing games helps to improve your cognitive skills. If you lack regular people to play with, invest in some word search or crossword puzzle books to do independently. When you find puzzles becoming too easy, upgrade to more challenging ones or try doing them with a pen.
9. Take Some Rest and Relaxation
Finally, practice good sleep hygiene by falling asleep and waking up at approximately the same time each day. Regular rest decreases Alzheimer’s risk because your brain continues processing stimuli while you sleep. Some researchers believe dreams help your mind fit information into your mental schema. Regardless, think back to your last sleepless night. You probably notice your memory seemed worse the next day. Getting adequate rest benefits overall brain function as well as health.
Reducing Your Dementia Risk Naturally
You can reduce your risk of developing dementia by practicing the healthy habits above. By developing a strong body and exercising your mind as well, you can maintain cognitive function well into your sunset years.