Dementia causes many symptoms that affect memory and other cognitive functions, and there are numerous risk factors for the condition. Some are unavoidable, such as age or a family history of the disease. However, many others may be manageable. Research shows that combatting these risk factors can positively affect even people with a significant genetic risk for dementia.
Research shows that diet can play an important role in developing or preventing dementia. People who have unhealthy diets are more likely to develop dementia than those consuming nutritiously diverse produce, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Low levels of vitamins B6, B12, and D, and a lack of exercise, can also increase the risk.
Head and brain injuries can potentially increase the chance of developing dementia, especially if they are severe or occur frequently. While experts recognize the link, the nature of the relationship is unclear. The best way to prevent these injuries is to avoid contact sports such as football or rugby and wear safety equipment in high-risk situations.
Many cardiovascular issues can damage the blood vessels, heart, and brain, eventually leading to dementia. High blood pressure, strokes, and bad cholesterol all increase the risk of cognitive decline. A person with diabetes is almost twice as likely to develop dementia in comparison to a person without the condition. To help limit these issues, participate in regular physical activity, adopt a healthy diet, and maintain a healthy weight. Medications may be necessary for certain cases.
In 2020, health experts recognized air pollution and other pollutants as major risk factors for dementia. Moving away from areas with high traffic exhaust levels is one of the simplest ways to reduce exposure to air pollution. Residential wood burning and secondhand smoke are also common pollutants that are typically easy to avoid.
Though experts do not fully understand the mechanisms, late-life depression has links to dementia. A study of nearly 800 people with cognitive impairment and a history of depression found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) could reduce the risk of dementia after four years of treatment. There is a lack of evidence surrounding the effects of other treatment methods, though research is ongoing.
Sleeping issues can increase a person’s chances of developing dementia, with sleep apnea appearing to have the most significant negative effect. Other issues, like insomnia, short sleep duration, and excessive sleep duration, may also play a role. A sleep test ordered by a doctor will help detect sleep apnea. Sleep therapies, like CPAP machines and prescription drugs, are common treatments. To manage other issues, doctors recommend losing excess weight, exercising regularly, and sleeping on the side or abdomen.
Smokers have a significantly higher risk of dementia than nonsmokers, thanks to the habit's wide-ranging side effects. A review of 50,000 men over the age of 60 showed that stopping smoking for over four years substantially reduced the chances of dementia in the following eight years. Additional research shows that nicotine may improve the memories of people with dementia, suggesting that nicotine patches are an acceptable substitute for smoking in terms of dementia prevention.
Excessive consumption of alcohol has close ties with cognitive difficulties, dementia, and brain changes in general. Some studies show that light or moderate drinking may have a protective effect against dementia, but the results are inconsistent. Experts advise that the best way to prevent dementia is to limit alcohol use. Enjoying an occasional glass of wine is fine.
Researchers also recognize hearing loss as a risk factor for dementia. One study found that every 10 dB reduction in hearing was associated with a decrease in cognitive function. Some experts suggest this is due to less cognitive stimulation. Hearing aids appear to have a protective effect and improve both immediate and delayed memory recall. This indicates that hearing aids could prevent dementia in people with hearing impairments.
Social isolation has links to dementia as both an early symptom and a risk factor. Several studies found that people not in relationships are more likely than those in a couple to develop dementia. Frequent social contact appears to protect against dementia and improves cognitive function in older adults. While there is currently a lack of long-term studies on isolation and dementia, experts recommend that older adults should be as socially active as possible.
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