Lifestyle changes that could prevent Dementia



A recent article in the highly-respected medical journal ‘The Lancet’ suggests that certain activities could prevent one in three cases of dementia. Bob’s Bones takes a brief look at each of them.

First, What IS Dementia?
We often think it’s easier to start by saying what dementia is not… Categorically, dementia is not the inevitable effect of old age. While it’s certainly more common in the elderly, dementia is nevertheless the result of any number of diseases that affect the brain…

Several Types
The most common and well known dementia is Alzheimer’s, but the list includes vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and Pick’s disease. These different types affect the brain in different ways and at different rates.

So How Can You Prevent It?
Years before people develop dementia, their   lifestyle choices almost certainly pave the way for some of the changes in their brain. Prof. Gill Livingston, from University College London, is the lead author of the new report which brings together research from two-dozen experts from around the world. He says, "Acting now will vastly improve life for people with dementia and their families and, in doing so, will transform the future of society."

What Does the Report Say?
The report concludes that nine lifestyle factors play a significant role in whether or not an  individual is at risk of developing dementia. As importantly, the report looks at the importance of building what it calls a "cognitive reserve". In other words, purposefully maintaining your brain’s networks so that it continues to function in older age.

Nine Factors. Thirty-Five Percent:
Nine things appear in the article, alongside a percentage figure relating to the estimated impact extent of that particular factor. Together they total a massive 35%. What’s more, each factor is lifestyle based and, to some extent, considered modifiable. In descending order, the nine factors are:

Mid-life Hearing Loss – 9% of the Risk
It was a little bit of a shock to see this at the top of the list… While some have suggested that hearing loss might be the result of changes linked to dementia, others propose that hearing loss actually contributes to the decline of cognition. In other words, if you can prevent or compensate for mid-life hearing loss, you’re also preventing dementia. One theory is that the compromise in auditory processing deprives the brain network of a rich, continuos stimulation.

Failing to Complete Secondary Education – 8%
Parents and teachers that wag fingers and nag children about the importance of school may be more right than they know! A staggering 8% of the risk stems, according to the research, from dropping out of education between the ages of 11 and 16. Although the law requires students to stay in school until 16, recent studies show that as many as 10,000 fail to complete their studies.

Smoking – 5%
Perhaps inevitably, smoking appears on the list! It has long been noted that smoking causes damage to the outer layer of your brain; the cortex… That’s the part of the brain that’s responsible for memory, language and perception. Indeed, studies show that a smoker’s cortex is usually found to be physically thinner than a non-smoker’s. While the cortex does quite naturally shrink with age, smoking, it seems, accelerates that thinning.

Failing to Seek Early Treatment for Depression – 4%
Wow. As if depression weren’t a serious-enough issue in its own right, it now seems possible that it significantly impacts on dementia. The message is clear though: seeking early treatment for depression may also help prevent dementia.

Physical Inactivity – 3%
No surprise here. As many visitors to the clinic know, the connection between mental well-being and physical health is simply undeniable. It makes absolute sense to us that a lazy or sedentary lifestyle impacts negatively on your mind. 

Social Isolation – 2%
With mid-life hearing loss rating at 9%, we’re astounded to find social isolation well-below that figure. We’d have imagined that a feeling of isolation would be far more destructive. Nevertheless, here it is at 2% – meaning it’s still vital, of course, to achieve a sense of community and connectedness throughout your life. We also nominate this factor as a psychological necessity in another issue of Bob’s Bones: Basic Needs.

High Blood Pressure – 2%
It doesn’t quite go without saying that your brain has a complex network of arteries, veins and capillaries to ensure it remains nourished. Blockages of the arteries supplying blood to the brain, and the subsequent high blood pressure – also known as hypertension – can cause vascular dementia. Well worth, then, testing your blood pressure every so often… The NHS suggests those over 40 should have at least one test every five years. Our inclination, though, is that you can start younger and check more often… Given what’s at stake, why wouldn’t you?!

Obesity – 1%
A number of studies make the connection between obesity and dementia. Not a lot to say about it, really – except that, like depression, obesity is a significant enough issue in itself… Consider the possibility that, on top of everything else, obesity could diminish your mental faculties in later life and you have good reason to be ever vigilant.

Type 2 Diabetes – 1%
Often linked to obesity – but not exclusively so – diabetes causes the body’s blood-sugar level to rise too high. There are two main types of diabetes:

Type 1: Your pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin, which is the hormone that controls the amount of glucose in your blood.

Type 2: Either your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or your body’s cells don’t react properly to the insulin that is produced…

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that some of the things that you can do to lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes are the same lifestyle changes that may prevent dementia! They include: maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and not smoking. Other lifestyle choices that prevent Type 2 Diabetes are only drinking alcohol in moderation and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Missing From The List?
The only really great surprise to us is that there is nothing on the list about dehydration – about which we have our suspicions – diet, or alcohol consumption. The researchers explain, though, that they simply don’t have enough data pertaining to the dietary factors or alcohol. It seems that they believe both of these could be important.