Reduce Dementia by a Third? Tell Us How!

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With dementia afflicting 45 million people worldwide in 2015, the disease could well be the biggest killer of the 21st century, some experts think. A new report from the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care suggests that up to a third of Alzheimer’s and other dementia cases could be prevented by addressing lifestyle issues that contribute to brain decline.

The report stresses that dementia is not an inevitable part of aging. Notably harmful to brain health, according to the study, are midlife hearing loss; leaving education before secondary school; late life smoking; depression; social isolation; lack of exercise; diabetes; and midlife high blood pressure and obesity.

Geriatrician Larry Lawhorne, MD, Wright State Physicians — Geriatrics, in Dayton, Ohio, tackles controllable risk factors with his patients. To reduce the risk of dementia or delay its onset, he recommends:

  1. Exercise: Walk or do other aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes a week.
  2. Socialize: Interact with other people to engage your brain and boost your mood.
  3. Control blood pressure and cholesterol: When these are high, they can lead to poor circulation in the brain, which can cause vascular dementia, problems with thinking and memory that result from not getting enough blood and oxygen to key areas of the brain.
  4. Don’t smoke: Smoking damages the blood vessels that supply your brain and can cause a decline in brain function.
  5. Eat healthy: Pattern after a Mediterranean diet, with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats. Watch portion sizes to prevent obesity.
  6. Get good sleep: The brain rids itself of toxins during sleep.

Dr. Lawhorne notes, “Evidence is compelling that if we do all of these things, our brain is going to stay healthier. There are no guarantees in life, but you can hedge your bets in that direction.”