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This One Thing Could Predict Dementia, Says Study

Researchers found an “association between dementia and self-reported pain.”
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

You can't predict if you'll get dementia but there are predictive factors—and researchers believe they have discovered a new one. "People with dementia may experience increased levels of pain 16 years before their diagnosis, according to research," reports the National Institute on Aging. "The study, funded in part by NIA and published in Pain, is the first to examine the link between pain and dementia over an extended period." Read on to see what pain they mean— and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.


Pain is a Correlate or Symptom of Dementia, Study Finds

woman suffering strong headache

"Dementia and chronic pain both cause changes to the brain and can affect a person's brain health," says the NIA. "Although many people who have dementia also have chronic pain, it is unclear whether chronic pain causes or accelerates the onset of dementia, is a symptom of dementia, or is simply associated with dementia because both are caused by some other factor. The recent study, led by researchers at Université de Paris, examined the timeline of the association between dementia and self-reported pain by analyzing data from a study that has been gathering data on participants for as many as 27 years."

The researchers measured pain a few different ways: pain intensity, which is how much bodily pain a participant experiences, and pain interference, which is how much a participant's pain affects his or her daily activities. 

Some "associations were evident for a mean follow-up of 6.2 years." "These associations were stronger when the mean follow-up for incidence of dementia was 3.2 years," say authors. "In conclusion, these findings suggest that pain is a correlate or prodromal symptom rather than a cause of dementia."

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There is Also a Heart-Brain Connection

Man With Heart Attack

This is not the first time a connection has been found between health issues and dementia. "Several conditions known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease — such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol — also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's," reports the Alzheimer's Association. "Some autopsy studies show that as many as 80% of individuals with Alzheimer's disease also have cardiovascular disease….Regular physical exercise may be a beneficial strategy to lower the risk of Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. Exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow in the brain. Because of its known cardiovascular benefits, a medically approved exercise program is a valuable part of any overall wellness plan." Read on for simple tricks to avoid deadly dementia, according to the experts at Stanford Health Care.

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This One Thing Can Reduce Your Dementia Risk By 45%, Studies Find

Man doing bridging exercise, lying on his back on black mat in empty office interior. Viewed from floor level from his head

Exercise can reduce your risk—as can movement of any kind, including cooking. "Several prospective studies have looked at middle-aged people and the effects of physical exercise on their thinking and memory in later life," reports the Alzheimer's Society. "Combining the results of 11 studies shows that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 per cent. For Alzheimer's disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45 per cent." You can do aerobic exercise for 20–30 minutes a day. "However, physical exercise does not just mean playing a sport or running. It can also mean a daily activity such as brisk walking, cleaning or gardening. One study found that the risk of Alzheimer's disease can be reduced by daily physical tasks such as cooking and washing up."

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Stay Mentally Alert

Thoughtful young woman doing a cryptic crossword puzzle in a newspaper

"…by learning new hobbies, reading, or solving crossword puzzles," advises Stanford. "The Bronx 20-year longitudinal Aging Study found that self-reported crossword puzzle use was associated with a 2.54 year delay in dementia onset, which suggests that similar to education, mentally stimulating activities may help delay the onset of symptoms, but on their own they cannot prevent dementia," reports Cognitive Vitality.

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Stay at a Healthy Weight

weight loss

The New York Times reported on the connection between dementia and a healthy weight just last year: "Compared with people of normal weight (body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9), overweight people with a B.M.I. of 25 to 29.9 were 27 percent more likely to develop dementia, and the obese, with a B.M.I. of 30 or higher, were 31 percent more likely to become demented." It continued: "The researchers also found that women with central obesity — a waist size larger than 34.6 inches — were 39 percent more likely to develop dementia than those with normal waist size. Fat around the middle was not associated with a higher dementia risk in men."

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Eat Healthy Food

Healthy woman making salad

How should you eat to prevent dementia? "One diet that shows some promising evidence is the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and other seafood; unsaturated fats such as olive oils; and low amounts of red meat, eggs, and sweets," reports the NIH. "A variation of this, called MIND (Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) incorporates the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which has been shown to lower high blood pressure, a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease."

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Manage Your Health Problems

Doctor and senior woman wearing facemasks

"…including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol," says Stanford. Complications from these issues can lead to a further health decline that can lead to dementia.

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Stay Involved Socially

Senior woman and daughter having coffee at safety distance in the garden.

Socializing keeps your brain active.  "Some types of mental exercises may have the added benefit of connecting you with others socially, which also may improve your mental health," says the Alzheimer's Association.

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Don't Smoke

Mature woman with sore throat, standing in living room at home.

Smoking can lead to a number of diseases, including dementia. "It is known that smoking increases the risk of vascular problems, including via strokes or smaller bleeds in the brain, which are also risk factors for dementia. In addition, toxins in cigarette smoke increase oxidative stress and inflammation, which have both been linked to developing of Alzheimer's disease," says the Alzheimer's Society. So practice these good habits, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek