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This Can Help "Stop" Dementia, New Study Says

This one thing you can easily do each day may reduce your risk of dementia.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Dementia is one the most feared disorders associated with aging, and the trepidation is understandable: The progressive brain disease can interfere with thinking, understanding and judgment—and progress to the point that it interferes with a person's ability to live an independent life. But research indicates there are things you can do to slash your risk of developing dementia. Here's one of the most important. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Is Dementia?

Portrait of worried senior man sitting on sofa in living room
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Dementia is the term for a number of brain disorders that involve changes to thinking, remembering and reasoning. They include:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Lewy body dementia

Dementia is a progressive disease. There is currently no cure, although in some cases its progression can be slowed. Ultimately, it interferes with a person's ability to function and live an independent life. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting about 6.2 million Americans.

But one thing you can easily do each day may reduce your risk of dementia, or slow it if you already have the condition, a new study has found. 

2

This Might Stop Dementia

older woman doing dumbbell workout at home
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In a study published last week in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, researchers found that exercise seems to boost levels of a protein that enables communication between brain cells, potentially preventing dementia. The protective effect of exercise was even found in older people whose brains contained a buildup of toxic debris known as plaques and tangles, which are associated with dementia.

The scientists studied the brains of older people—on average, between 70 and 80 years old—who had donated their organs to science as part of the Memory and Aging Project at Rush University in Chicago. As part of that study, participants reported how much regular physical activity they undertook in their later years.

The study found that people who were more physically active had more of the protective proteins. "The more physical activity, the higher the synaptic protein levels in brain tissue. This suggests that every movement counts when it comes to brain health," study author Kaitlin Casaletto, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of California San Francisco, told CNN.

RELATED: Ways to "COVID-Proof" Your Life As Much as Possible

3

How Might Exercise Prevent Dementia?

older man stretching in a gym
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The protein boosted by exercise seems to work on synapses, the gaps between brain cells. For the brain to transmit messages effectively, they must cross those gaps. 

Synapses are the critical communicating junctions between nerve cells and are really where the magic happens when it comes to cognition," said Casaletto.

RELATED: Signs You Have a "Silent Killer" Health Problem

4

Finding Supports Previous Research

older man with dementia talking to doctor
Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke

Previous studies have shown that regular exercise might reduce risk of developing dementia by 30% to 80%. But the reason why is unclear. This new study may have shed some light. "We have described, for the first time in humans, that synaptic functioning may be a pathway through which physical activity promotes brain health." said Casaletto. 

"I think these findings begin to support the dynamic nature of the brain in response to our activities, and the capacity of the elderly brain to mount healthy responses to activity even into the oldest ages."

5

How to Stay Safe Out There

Nurse with face mask sitting at home with senior woman and injecting covid 19 vaccine.
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"Much has been learned about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the novel coronavirus, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic," says the Alzheimer's Association. "However, questions remain about the long-term impact of the virus on our bodies and brains. New research reported at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference® (AAIC®) 2021, held virtually and in Denver found associations between COVID-19 and persistent cognitive deficits, including the acceleration of Alzheimer's disease pathology and symptoms."  Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more