Take Action Now to Reduce the Risk of Dementia Later
Concerns about dementia are on the rise as our population ages. How do we prevent it? How do we cure it? How do we accommodate people who have it?
We will likely be seeking answers to these questions for many years to come, and judging by a recently releases series of studies, the answers won’t always come easy:
- Do over-the-counter supplements prevent cognitive decline? Inconclusive.
- Do pharmacologic interventions prevent cognitive decline? Not within our limited trials.
- Does cognitive training prevent cognitive decline? Evidence is insufficient.
- Does physical activity prevent cognitive decline? Maybe.
Part of the trouble in studying dementia is that the disease can have such a long period of gestation. People can live with Alzheimer’s for thirty years before they start showing symptoms. Designing a scientific study that covers such an extended period of time is expensive and can increasingly run into ethical issues when control groups are denied potentially beneficial treatments just to give us clearer statistics.
But while rigorous scientific studies have so far shown inconclusive long-term results, underlying evidence still points to strategies that may be effective at reducing our risk of cognitive decline. The difficulty is that we need to start now with permanent lifestyle changes, before the symptoms of disease start to take hold, and we need to take it on faith that these actions will benefit us. We can’t afford to wait for conclusive scientific confirmation that exercise prevents dementia, for example.
The good news is that these things that might help with dementia are things we should be doing for general quality of life reasons anyway. Here are the big three:
- Activate your brain — Despite the “insufficient evidence” cited in the study above, other studies have found evidence of dramatic reduction in dementia risk resulting from cognitive training. Whether certain “brain games” are more beneficial than others is still up for debate, and it’s possible that high levels of social interaction are just as helpful. Still, it’s good to get out there and use your brain while you’ve got it. Challenge yourself. Take some classes. Learn a new language. Talk to strangers. It’s fun.
- Control your blood pressure — And start young. Regular doctor visits are important, as heart health equals brain health.
- Exercise regularly — Just do it.
If you want an even bigger list of things you can do now to reduce the risk of dementia later, check out Ten Ways to Love Your Brain from the Alzheimer’s Association.