Dementia Busting Secrets That Really Work
According to the CDC, the number of adults with dementia in the U.S. is estimated to be nearly 14 million by 2060. "Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory and thinking problems that are bad enough to impact real world activities, accounting for 60 percent or more of dementia cases," says behavioral neurologist Glen R. Finney, MD, director of the Memory and Cognition Program at Geisinger. "It generally affects people older than 65; however, in some cases, it can affect younger people." Want to keep your brain healthy? Here are five dementia-busting secrets that really work, according to science. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Get Enough Sleep
Poor sleep is strongly correlated to dementia, so make sure you're getting at least seven hours a night. "Inadequate sleep in midlife raises one's risk of dementia," says Andrew E. Budson, MD. "There are many reasons for poor sleep in middle age: shift work, insomnia, caretaking responsibilities, anxiety, and pressing deadlines, just to name a few. Although not all of these are controllable, some are. For example, if you're currently only sleeping four to five hours because you're up late working every night, you might want to change your habits, otherwise you risk developing dementia by the time you retire!"
Use It Or Lose It
Keeping your brain active with puzzles, games, and learning new skills is strongly linked to brain health and plasticity. "The idea behind brain training is that just as exercise helps you keep your body in good shape, mental exercises help your brain stay in good shape," says Dr. Finney.
"While it's unclear if games geared specifically toward dementia and Alzheimer's prevention actually work, there's evidence that keeping your mind sharp and taking good care of yourself can help keep your brain healthy, too."
The Mediterranean Diet Is Beneficial For Your Brain
Research has shown that following a Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain aging. "You may know that a Mediterranean diet — rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, whole grains and fish — offers many heart-healthy benefits. But a Mediterranean diet may also benefit your brain," says Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D. "Studies show people who closely follow a Mediterranean diet are less likely to have Alzheimer's disease than people who don't follow the diet." Dr. Graff-Radford points out that the diet can "reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — a transitional stage between the cognitive decline of normal aging and the more-serious memory problems caused by dementia or Alzheimer's disease."
There is a wealth of evidence linking regular exercise to a lower risk of dementia: One study of 299 healthy, dementia-free men and women with an average age of 78 showed that walking six miles a week had protective benefits for the brain. "Based on current evidence, physical activity stands as one of the best ways to lower the risk of dementia," says neurologist Daniel Kaufer, M.D., of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "It connects the dots between being more physically active at the start of the study to having a bigger brain nine years later. Walking a mile a day helps keep dementia at bay — but it's no guarantee."
"This research is unique in that we examined the brain itself rather than depending on what people tell us," says epidemiologist Lewis Kuller, M.D. "Looking at the relationship between brain changes and walking suggests that walking may be beneficial — and walking is the most common physical activity of older people."
Multiple studies show that socializing directly affects the brain, and can help ward off dementia and Alzheimer's. "If you stay connected, you have a better shot," says Valerie Crooks, clinical trials administrative director at Southern California Kaiser Permanente Medical Group. "Whenever we have even the most basic exchange, we have to think about how to respond, and that stimulates the brain. There are people who are outliers, who have two very close relationships and are fine cognitively. But people who have three or more relationships tend to do better."
"Through a variety of activities you do during your life, your brain becomes more efficient. If you have a disease that's destroying your [thought-processing] networks, the guy with the more efficient network is going to be better off," says David Bennett, M.D., neurologist and director of the Rush University Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago.