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Important ways to reduce the risk of dementia

Keeping your brain active and healthy is important at every age. While the exact causes of dementia are still being investigated, it’s accepted that there are some key things we can do to manage the risk factors.

There are unfortunately no magic pills here. Like all health goals, preventing the risk of dementia requires a whole-body approach and making good lifestyle choices.

Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of getting dementia.

1. Move your body

Exercise is considered a key intervention for reducing the risk of age-related cognitive decline and dementia. Exercise has been shown to have immediate and long-lasting protective benefits for your brain. It’s not entirely known why, but better cardiovascular health has been shown to lower the risk of dementia by as much as 88 per cent.

That’s surely motivation enough to move your body. Here are some ways you can do exactly that:

  • make a daily walk a habit
  • try doing some Pilates or yoga at home
  • join your local gym or pool
  • take up a new sport like tennis, soccer or Tai Chi
  • dance in the kitchen after dinner just because 

2. Keep your brain active 

A key study found that having a cognitively active lifestyle may delay the onset of dementia in Alzheimer’s disease by as much as five years. Even if you don’t have Alzheimer’s, the findings indicate that reading, writing and playing games later in life will be beneficial for your brain health. Some activities you can try:

  • take up a 'key learning project' and teach yourself something new
  • do an online or community course in something that interests you
  • make daily word or maths games a habit
  • play board games like chess, backgammon, cards or puzzles
  • read widely and regularly and visit your local library often
  • find a pen pal and exchange weekly letters
  • tutor high school students in your star subject

3. Improve your nutrition 

It will be no surprise to anyone that good nutrition is critical for brain health and the prevention of dementia. The basics are all important:

  • enjoy a wide variety of nutritious food
  • drink plenty of water throughout the day
  • up your veggies and eat as many different colours as you can
  • decrease your reliance on takeaway food – home cooked wholefood is best
  • eat plenty of oily fish, flax and chia seeds, eggs and walnuts to up your Omega-3 intake
  • eat mainly wholefoods, not packets
  • snack on seeds, nuts and fruits, if you snack at all

4. Get plenty of sleep

Poor sleep is a risk factor for cognitive decline and healthy sleep is necessary to maintain brain health. Which will not be good news for anyone suffering from insomnia or other sleep issues.

The most important thing is to take sleepless nights seriously. If they are ongoing and prolonged, seek professional advice to improve your sleep. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting quality shut-eye:

  • keep to a regular bedtime and wake up time
  • get plenty of light first thing in the morning – this resets your circadian clock to ensure you’re adequately sleepy at night
  • dim the lights at night – the same circadian clock needs low light at least two hours before bedtime
  • stay off screens before bed – electronic devices can disrupt your melatonin levels and your natural sleep patterns
  • keep your bedroom restful to cultivate an ambience for optimal sleep

5. Be sensible about treats

We all need to ‘live a little’, but there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. To prevent dementia, certain treats in life are best kept to a minimum, or abolished entirely. So, do reconsider these luxuries:

  • don't smoke, it goes without saying that smoking is a barrier to good health and that includes brain health
  • limit your alcohol to one or two drinks every other day
  • keep sweets for special occasions: the evidence is growing that excess sugar intake is associated with poor cognitive function
  • treat yourself to things that benefit your health: a massage, time with friends, a walk in nature, the latest bestseller – anything you look forward to

6. Make time for friends

Evidence supporting the importance of social interactions in preventing dementia is growing. It’s not entirely clear why, although some studies point to the increase in a person’s self-efficacy when they are engaged in social and leisure activities. Good relationship also foster mental stimulation, which we have already seen is a good way to lower your risk of dementia.

So, how can you stay engaged with your friends, family and community?

  • schedule regular catch-ups with those you love: it doesn’t have to extensive, a simple walk or quick cup of coffee is enough
  • join a Probus Club, workshop or gym together and put time in the calendar to attend
  • watch a favourite show together: swap houses each week or simply call each other when the show is on
  • take weekend breaks with your favourites – going away somewhere new is both stimulating and bonding
  • remember, get-togethers don't have to be special: share your Tuesday spaghetti bolognese, garden together, play a game of pool at the pub or do your weekly grocery shop in each other’s company

The bottom line: the more engaged you are with life in general, the more likely you are to keep your brain healthy and alert. Stay active, be present and take care of yourself and others.