Dementia causes impaired thinking, reasoning, or remembering that affects a person’s ability to behave normally and function safely in everyday life. Two of the most common forms of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, which occurs when an abnormal decrease in blood flow to the brain leads to tissue damage and impaired function.
Dementia is not a normal consequence of aging. Age and family history are the biggest risk factors, and while you can’t do anything about those, you can control several lifestyle factors that help protect against dementia development.
At Gill Neuroscience in Houston, Texas, board-certified adult neurologist and psychiatrist Dr. Paul Gill specializes in treating dementia patients. Here are five steps he recommends taking to help minimize your dementia risk as you age.
While the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are still not fully known, we know vascular dementia occurs when diseased blood vessels cause tiny areas of bleeding or blocked blood flow to the brain. You may not notice symptoms at first, but when this happens repeatedly, you can develop problems with memory and other brain functions.
The solution? Take care of your blood vessels. This will have the added benefit of reducing your risk of stroke, heart disease, and other major issues.
To improve your vascular health, you need to control high blood pressure, stop smoking, curtail excessive alcohol intake, address any issues that may be leading to diabetes, and achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Good nutrition plays a major role in protecting your heart and vascular health (and thus in preventing dementia) as well. Avoid processed foods, saturated fats, and added sugars, and focus on eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins. These dietary guidelines can help you get started on the path to better eating.
Not only does good nutrition benefit your overall health, it lowers your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, and it can help you maintain a healthy weight.
You won’t be surprised that exercise plays a key role in your brain health as well. Not only does it help you lose weight, studies have shown that even light to moderate exercise reduces your risk of dementia by up to a third.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the gym. Start with daily walks or bike rides around your neighborhood, or take that yoga class you’ve always been curious about.
Check with your primary care provider before you begin a new exercise regimen. Once you’ve been cleared for activity, start at your current fitness level and slowly increase the duration and intensity of your workouts as you get fitter.
Staying socially connected can help keep your spirits up and offer protective effects against dementia. This can be as easy as talking to your neighbor when you see them outside. You can also join a hobby or interest group, be active in your church, volunteer with a charity, or join a regular fitness class, among other options.
These social connections may help lower the risk of cognitive decline as they stimulate your brain and give you something to look forward to.
Closely related to social activity is mental activity or brain stimulation. While no studies have yet proven that this actually prevents dementia, mental stimulation may help slow cognitive decline by building new connections and cells in your brain. This can include activities such as creating art, playing games that require strategic thinking, working puzzles, and more.
If you want to learn more about steps you can take to reduce your likelihood of developing dementia — or if you recognize early signs of the disease in yourself or a loved one — our team at Gill Neuroscience can help. Just call our office today, or use our online request form to set up an appointment any time.