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As one of the most common conditions in later life, dementia affects 1 in 6 people over the age of 80. While prevention is never certain due to the varying effects that dementia has on different individuals, there are lots of little things that you can do now (as recommended by the NHS) to help you reduce the risk of developing dementia later on in life. And the good news is that even if you already have dementia, making these simple changes can help to delay any further symptoms.
N.B. Research into how different lifestyle factors may affect the risk of developing dementia is still ongoing. Do consult your GP for further information.
Perhaps an obvious choice, but eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables - high in folates! - is a great place to start as well as cutting down on your salt (no more than 6g per day) and sugar intake. The latter will prevent your blood sugar levels from rising, which, in turn, will ensure that there is no inflammation to the brain. Blood sugar levels are easy to control if you follow carefully-crafted blood sugar diet recipes.
Fish oils, a source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, help your brain to stay healthy, as does vitamin D. Be sure to incorporate plenty of healthy fats into your diet by consuming cold water fish, such as tuna and salmon. Unhealthy fats will increase your cholesterol, which may put you at risk of developing dementia symptoms. Mediterranean diet, anyone?
Myth: Green tea helps to protect the brain against the toxic chemicals linked specifically to Alzheimer's disease.
Reality: Research is pretty inconclusive in the tea department, but if you're partial to a spot of the green stuff, then it can't hurt either way.
Consuming more than the daily recommended alcohol units can increase your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This can ultimately lead to cardiovascular disease, which can increase your risk of developing dementia. You don't need to cut out the odd tipple altogether, but do be aware of how much you're drinking, especially if you already have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Smoking can also raise your blood pressure and cause your arteries to narrow, which may eventually limit the blood flow to your brain. Be sure to take regular health tests to check your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Not only can physical activity make you feel more open-minded, energetic and happy, it can also reduce your risk of developing dementia by up to 50 percent, according to the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation. Yes, a healthy body (and at least 150 minutes of exercise per week) can definitely lead to a healthy mind.
Regular exercise can also help with coordination, cognitive function (very important if you have been diagnosed with dementia as it'll slow down any further deterioration) and mental stimulation. Depending on your physical condition, activities such as walking, cycling or swimming may help to ease your body into taking regular exercise. It is also benefical to do a mixture of cardio, strength, balance and coordination exercises. Yoga and dance are especially ideal for incorporating all four.
A rich and stimulating environment is important for keeping your mind sharp. Do things that challenge your mind, whether it's Sudoku puzzles, discussing politics with your teenage grandchildren or learning to play an instrument. Increased blood flow to the brain helps to keep it functioning as normal - it needs regular workouts in the same way that your body does. Some research has shown that staying mentally active can help to ensure that your cognitive behaviour doesn't diminish, which will lower your risk of developing dementia symptoms.
Human beings are highly sociable creatures. We don't thrive in isolation, and neither do our brains. Staying socially engaged helps us to develop and maintain a strong network of friends and keep our minds active. Regularly connecting face-to-face with a family member or a friend can curb feelings of loneliness and help you to set a weekly routine for yourself, which aids memory and helps mental coordination. While many of us become more isolated as we age, it's not too late to develop new friendships and reinforce important relationships by volunteering, joining a club or social group and seeing friends or family often.
Chronic stress has been proven to increase the risk of developing dementia as it can damage certain areas of the brain that affect thinking, memory and emotional response. You can cope with stress in a variety of ways, but noticing that you suffer from it in the first place is key to understanding how to deal with it. Incorporate relaxation exercises into your daily routine, in the same way that you would any sort of physical activity.
Stress and anxiety can also affect your ability to sleep so it is important to consult your GP if you think you are stressed and are having trouble sleeping. While there is no conclusive evidence that lack of sleep leads to dementia, those who have breathing problems while sleeping are at greater risk of developing dementia symptoms as less oxygen is able to reach the brain. Changes in your ability to sleep soundly is common in those suffering with Alzheimer's. See our tips on how to cope with a chronic lack of sleep, but do be sure to check your options with your GP.
Disclaimer: Not every diet or regime is right for everyone. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.
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