These Behaviors Increase Your Dementia Risk, According to Doctors
What are the behaviors that increase your dementia risk, according to doctors? The brain is a mysterious machine, and there's a lot about the way it operates that experts still don't fully understand. For example: Why and how some people develop Alzheimer's and dementia, progressive diseases in which cognitive function, memory and judgment deteriorate. But that doesn't mean your brain health is completely beyond your control.
Experts have identified simple steps you can take to keep your brain and memory in top condition in your older years. You can start by avoiding these everyday behaviors that can increase your dementia risk, according to doctors we talked to directly. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.
Not Exercising Your Brain
"I firmly believe that, to keep a brain healthy as we age, we must 'use it or lose it'," says Dr. Douglas Scharre, a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who focuses on treating patients with memory problems, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. "Just like a muscle, if you're not strengthening your mind, your health may suffer."
Many activities qualify as brain exercise. Some of Scharre's recommendations: "Play games, work puzzles, read, travel, exercise, invent, innovate, play a musical instrument, write a story, write a letter, write a blog, volunteer, teach, lend a helping hand, join a group, go to a play or concert or lecture, or participate in research."
RELATED: Sure Signs You May Have Dementia, According to the CDC
Another important way to exercise your brain is to socialize with others. Scharre advises that his patients do this regularly. "Involve yourself in a discussion that allows for you to make associations, judgments, deductions and assessments based on life experiences," he says.
"Among the many health reasons smoking is bad for your body is that it can hinder brain function," says Scharre. "One study proved that smoking just one cigarette a day for an extended period can reduce cognitive ability, and smoking 15 cigarettes daily hinders critical thinking and memory by almost 2 percent. When you stop smoking, your brain benefits from increased circulation almost instantly."
RELATED: The #1 Cause of Heart Attack, According to Science
Eating An Unhealthy Diet
An unhealthy diet — high in processed foods, saturated fats and simple sugars — is bad for your gut, heart and brain. Instead, try adopting the Mediterranean diet, which features lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil and mixed nuts. "These items aren't only linked to boosting the brain power of elderly people, but they've also been shown to be even more beneficial to your health than a low-fat diet by protecting against type 2 diabetes, preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing muscle weakness and frailty in aging bones," says Scharre.
RELATED: The #1 Cause of Diabetes, According to Science
Not Protecting Your Hearing
"A new study found that older adults who start losing both vision and hearing are twice as likely to develop dementia as people with only one or neither impairment," says Dr. Hope Lanter, lead audiologist at hear.com in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Hearing loss can be an early sign of many conditions, including dementia. So proper hearing care is a vital component to a healthy life, and there are ways to help lessen the risk of losing your hearing."
Lanter says that limiting or avoiding noise exposure is the most important thing you can do. "That includes wearing headphones during everyday tasks such as mowing your lawn—common actions that many people don't correlate with contributing to hearing loss," she says. It's also crucial to get your hearing checked regularly to catch any loss in the early stages. "Early and routine hearing testing is critical to monitor any changes and to be proactive in regard to being in control of your hearing," says Lanter. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.