My father has dementia, and we, his adult children, are concerned that we may be at high risk. What can we do to prevent dementia?
Dementia, a decline in thinking, memory, and decision-making, affects one new person every three seconds worldwide. None of us wants to be in that lineup. Not all types of dementia are family-linked, and not everyone with a family history of dementia and is at increased risk will develop the condition. Proactively taking brain-healthy steps and adopting a healthy lifestyle can offset some of the risk in family members of individuals with dementia.
If you or any of your loved ones begin to experience cognitive decline or dementia-related symptoms, we strongly recommend that you seek a comprehensive evaluation by a health-care professional, or specialist in geriatric medicine or neurology, or consult with a dementia specialist. Every day researchers uncover more about the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to dementia, so personalized risk assessments and interventions are becoming available.
Staving off dementia and maintaining robust cognitive health involves a combination of lifestyle choices and behaviors. Here are 10:
Stay Mentally Active: Engage in mentally stimulating activities, such as puzzles, or learning a new language or skill. Read regularly and challenge your mind.
Stay Physically Active: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, along with strength training and flexibility. Exercise positively impacts brain health through better blood flow and stimulation of brain cell regeneration.
Prioritize Adequate Sleep: Aim for seven to eight hours of restful sleep per night. Sleep is essential for memory consolidation, brain hygiene, and overall brain health.
Eat Healthily: Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. The carbs should not be heavily processed, the proteins lean, and the fats healthy. Include foods high in antioxidants, such as berries, leafy greens, and nuts, while limiting added sugars and processed foods.
Manage Stress: Prayer, meditating on God’s Word, deep breathing, taking brisk walks, and practicing self-talk based on reality and truth may all be helpful stress busters.
Engage Socially and Spiritually: Stay socially active; cultivate and maintain healthy, appropriate relationships; join clubs or groups that interest you to stay socially engaged.
Protect Your Head: Prevent head injuries by wearing helmets during sports and using seat belts in vehicles.
Omit Alcohol: Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of dementia.
Take Care of Comorbid Health Conditions: Manage blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body weight, depression, anxiety, and diabetes.
Don’t Use Tobacco in Any Form! Curiously, a recently published study showed that religious attendance, beyond merely being social interaction, is associated with better cognitive function and neuropsychiatric symptoms.* Perhaps “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25, NIV) is better advice than we could have imagined.
* International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 20, no. 5 (Feb. 28, 2023): 4300.