Risk Factors for Dementia and Ways to Prevent It

 In Primary Care

Many people say that staying mentally sharp is a high priority as they age. Memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can impact independent living, challenge relationships and lead to greater health decline. In this article, we define dementia, discuss dementia risk factors, and share ways to prevent memory loss.

Defining dementia and its prevalence

Dementia is an “umbrella category” for diseases or illnesses that cause mental decline and affect daily living. Damage to the brain’s nerve cells causes dementia, impacting their ability to communicate with the rest of the brain. It commonly affects parts of the brain associated with learning, memory, decision making and language.

Currently, about 50 percent of people age 85 and older have dementia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 5 million U.S. adults age 65 or older have dementia or Alzheimer’s. By 2060, 14 million people, or 3.3 percent of the U.S. population, will have dementia.

Symptoms of dementia include cognitive and psychological changes. Frequently, people experience memory loss, difficulty finding words, and trouble with problem-solving, complex tasks, planning and organizing. People with dementia may experience personality changes, depression, anxiety, suspicion or paranoia and hallucinations.

Types of dementia

Many forms of dementia exist. Most types of dementia cannot be cured or reversed, but nearly all forms are treatable and some may be preventable.

The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Other irreversible dementias include Lewy body, frontotemporal, mixed, dementia related to Parkinson’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Some forms of dementia are reversible including those caused by medication side effects, thyroid, tumors and metabolic problems.

Risk factors influencing dementia

Genetic, hereditary or trauma-induced factors

Some dementia risk factors cannot be influenced, like your age, gender, ethnicity, family history or past trauma.

  1. Age – As you age, your risk for dementia grows. It is most prevalent in people over 65.
  2. Gender – Women are twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s disease than men. This may happen because women tend to live longer than men.
  3. Ethnicity – People of certain ethnicities have a higher chance of developing dementia. People of African, Hispanic or South Asian descent have a higher risk for dementia.
  4. Family history – If you have biological parents or siblings with dementia, your risk for dementia increases.
  5. Heart disease – People with heart disease, especially those who develop it at a young age, have an increased risk of developing dementia.
  6. Mental illness – People with mental disorders have a higher risk for dementia.
  7. Down’s Syndrome
  8. Brain injury

Controllable lifestyle factors

Many lifestyle factors influence the risk of developing dementia. Studies indicate that behavioral or social changes could prevent, delay or slow a significant amount of dementia. The prevention factors of dementia listed below have been shown to have positive outcomes. Prevent dementia risk by choosing to:

  1. Be social. Social interaction keeps cognition sharp, engages the mind and reduces depression. Social isolation is a dementia risk factor linked to young-onset dementia.
  2. Be positive. A new study found that people who are extroverted, conscientious and have a positive outlook may be at a lower risk of dementia. Conversely, people who are neurotic, less conscientious and have a negative outlook may be at increased risk for dementia.
  3. Exercise. A sedentary lifestyle is tied to increased dementia risk. Doing chores around the house and regularly exercising protects against dementia, even in those with genetic risk factors. Staying active also promotes good heart health, which protects against dementia.
  4. Eat a healthy diet with high fiber, vitamins and nutrients. Research has found that a high-fiber diet plays an important role in dementia prevention, decreasing risk by 25 percent. Vitamins play an important role, too. People deficient in vitamin D, B-6, B-12 and folate have a higher risk of dementia later in life.
  5. Stay mentally active. Social engagement with friends and family members, reading, solving puzzles, playing games and even regular internet use are all linked to lower risk of dementia.
  6. Limit your screen time. People who watch four or more hours of TV per day have a 28 percent higher risk for dementia than those who watch TV for less than an hour a day.
  7. Get help for hearing loss. People with moderate to severe hearing loss have a 61 percent higher prevalence of dementia compared to people with normal hearing. The use of hearing aids significantly reduces the risks of cognitive decline and dementia.
  8. Drink alcohol occasionally. Heavy alcohol use is linked to early-onset dementia, but moderate alcohol consumption lowers the risk of dementia.
  9. Stop smoking. A study found middle-aged smokers report memory loss and confusion much more than non-smokers.
  10. Don’t use cannabis long-term. Long-term use of cannabis causes part of your brain to atrophy. It has been proven to cause lower cognitive function in midlife.
  11. Get good, quality sleep and treat any sleep disorders.
  12. Watch out for medications that worsen memory like sleep aids, sedatives, diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or medicines for urinary urgency (Ditropan XL).

Work with your physician to increase your brain health and prevent or treat dementia

Since dementia typically occurs later in life, choose a physician who focuses on the needs of older adults. Physicians with a focus on older adults can easily identify risk factors, make recommendations and treat symptoms that may arise.

People over 55 years of age have different health considerations than they did when they were younger. Personalized Hematology-Oncology offers primary care services with an emphasis on patients over 55 old. Our board-certified internal medicine physician, Dr. Paul VanSweden, takes a proactive approach and partners with you to maintain your overall health and wellness.

Our primary care medical practice provides personalized treatment. We take time to listen to our patients and offer the best care to fit each patient’s goals and values.

If you are concerned about your risk factors for dementia, contact our office today to speak to one of our staff.

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