It is estimated that someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. In 2017 alone, 50 million people were said to have this disease. Dementia can actually start as early as in one’s 30s; like atherosclerosis it can be present in one’s blood. Alzheimer’s disease is now estimated to be present genetically in the brain. So is there anything we can do to keep us from losing our minds? Experts believe there are some easy ways to prevent dementia or at least keep it from progressing. Let us take a look:
1. Know your risk factors
Talk to your doctor about your risk to developing dementia. Many a times, detecting the disease early can help one slow down its progress. If one or both parents or a sibling has been diagnosed, it is important that you get yourself evaluated. Ask yourself following questions:
- Is my memory deteriorating?
- Do I find it hard to concentrate? Am I confused often?
- Do I sometimes meet someone I know well but cannot remember their name?
- Am I able to remember things from the past but cannot recollect what I did yesterday?
- Do I often forget the day of the week?
- Do I go looking for something and forget what it is I am looking for?
If you believe these things are occurring frequently, talk to your doctor. Mention these concerns to her/him so they can recommend the right tests, supplements and diet to prevent further cognitive decline.
2. Drink alcohol moderately
Moderate alcohol intake can help prevent dementia. Since alcohol, especially wine, is anti-inflammatory, a daily cocktail or a glass of red wine can delay dementia. Note that one drink means 12 ounce beer, or 5 ounces of wine or a shot of liquor.
3. Take dementia prevention supplements
ALA or Alpha lipoic acid and acetyl-l-carnitine are two of the best dementia prevention supplements. They work together to rejuvenate the aging brain. You need at least 200 mg ALA and 500 mg acetyl-L-carnitine daily.
4. Avoid anesthesia
Preliminary research is now linking anesthesia and Alzheimer’s disease. If you have recently had had surgery or will be undergoing one, talk about these concerns with your doctor.
5. Prevent low blood flow to the foot
A test called Ankle Brachia Index can detect low blood flow to the feet which can predict your risk of cognitive decline as well as strokes. Talk to your doctor about this test. If you have impaired blood flow to the feet, your doctor might recommend dietary changes, exercises and medication to correct it.
6. Eat antioxidants
Antioxidants are powerful antidotes to memory decline. Never miss your chance to eat fruit. Berries are highest in antioxidants-eat them daily. Include berries of different colors like black berries, strawberries, blueberries etc. You can also eat raisins, artichokes, plums, garlic, red cabbage, lettuce, apples with peel, asparagus, sweet potatoes etc since they are high in antioxidants. Green tea, especially Matcha tea and dark chocolate are also great. Make these foods a part of your dementia prevention diet. Drink plenty of apple juice daily.
7. Raise your good cholesterol levels
It is very important to raise your HDL or good cholesterol levels, especially if it is below 40 mg/dl. Follow the DASH or Mediterranean diet. These heart healthy diets are also dementia preventative and good for the brain.
8. Avoid sugar and bad fats
An important way of preventing dementia from progressing is to stay away from bad fats. These include fats found in bakery products, butter, margarine etc. Instead, eat good fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado and walnuts. Also eat plenty of fatty fish like salmon. Avoid excess sugar.
9. Keep yourself busy
An idle mind is indeed the Devil’s workshop but more importantly it is a surefire invitation to dementia and cognitive decline. When you are busy, your mind and brain are occupied. The more your brain works, the slower will be the dementia progression.
10. Drink coffee
Moderate coffee intake (2-4 cups daily) could prevent progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Caffeine reduces inflammation as well as accumulation of beta amyloid peptide which cause amyloid plaque. Coffee also promotes higher level of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in cognition.
11. Play dementia prevention games
Put your Smartphone to good use: download and play some dementia prevention games which effectively train the brain to retain stuff and improve memory. Here are some great apps for this purpose.
12. Take your vitamins
Many vitamins are linked to cognitive function. You especially need to take B vitamins like vitamin B 12, B6 and folic acid.
13. Herbal supplements
- Gingko is specifically used for treating and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. You can take it in standardized extract of 40 to 50 mg three times per day. Avoid this herb if you are taking anticoagulant medicines.
- Hawthorn- This herb promotes blood circulation.
- Rosemary- Improves memory, reduces depression.
- Siberian Ginseng increases cerebral circulation.
- Lemon balm- prevents and reduces anxiety
- John’s Wort- relieves anxiety and prevents depression.
Simple lifestyle measures such as modest exercise (yoga, brisk walking, cycling, etc) and playing board games are recommended to elderly patients to prevent dementia.[i]
15. Lower stress
There is no evidence linking stress as a causative factor of dementia. However, stress can lead to confusion and forgetfulness. Mind body practices like listening to relaxation music, taking up a hobby, meditation and yoga can be useful for combating stress.
16. Quit smoking
There is no direct link between smoking and dementia but smoking can cause hardening of arteries known as atherosclerosis which leads to strokes. One form of dementia called vascular dementia is caused by strokes that cut off blood supply to the brain.
[i] Primary Care Medicine: Office Evaluation and Management of the Adult Patient edited by Allan H. Goroll, Albert G. Mulley