Three Prevention Practices to Start Today
From protecting yourself and eating better to making sure you’re getting enough sleep, the following studies look at some of the things you can do to help reduce your risk of dementia.
Watch Your Head
Head trauma can have a number of long-term effects, ranging from worsened sight to permanent brain damage. A recent study out of Umeå University in Sweden found that traumatic brain injuries (TBI), such as concussions, can also be a risk factor for dementia.
Published in the PLOS medical journal in January 2018, the study revealed that the risk of a dementia diagnosis was highest in the year following the injury, and the participants who experienced a TBI were four to six times more likely to receive a dementia diagnosis than those who hadn’t.
The study also found that participants who had more severe or multiple brain injuries over their lifetimes had a higher risk of developing dementia at an older age, and, though this risk may decrease over time, it is still evident more than 30 years after the trauma. The results of the study remain consistent when looking into family medical records and genetic risks for dementia.
The researchers caution that the study’s outcome does not necessarily mean that all people who have suffered from a brain injury will be diagnosed with dementia, and there is no evidence that one mild TBI increases the dementia risk.
However, a growing body of evidence does suggest that repeated mild TBI, experienced by athletes who play football or hockey, for example, could be linked to a greater risk of a chronic traumatic encephalopathy dementia diagnosis.
Avoid head trauma by wearing a helmet while bike riding or participating in sports, and buckling up while in a moving vehicle.
The amount of alcohol you drink has a significant effect on your body, and according to a 2017 study, drinking too much or too little could also increase your risk of dementia.
A team of researchers from the Université Paris-Saclay, and University Montpellier in France, in collaboration with scientists from University College London in the U.K., set out to discover the connection between alcohol consumption in mid-life to old age and the risk of dementia.
The 23-year-long study included over 9,000 participants between the ages of 35 and 55, and found that both abstaining from alcohol and drinking heavily (more than 14 standard U.K. alcohol units per week) in mid-life raised the risk of dementia when comparing the results to participants who drank light-to-moderately.
While the study doesn’t encourage those who do not drink to start drinking, it does caution that excessive alcohol consumption can increase the chance of being diagnosed with dementia in later life.Although the reasons why excessive alcohol consumption is linked to an increased dementia risk aren’t specifically known, one factor could be that drinking large amounts of alcohol can prevent neurons from regenerating.
Alternatively, some evidence suggests that light-to-moderate drinking plays a protective role in brain health by reducing inflammation and clearing away toxins.
Ultimately, the study “encourages the use of a lower threshold of alcohol consumption in such guidelines, applicable over the adult life course, in order to promote cognitive health.”
Alberta Health Services recommends consuming no more than 10 standard-sized drinks a week for women, and 15 for men.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
The benefits of a good night’s sleep on your overall brain health are many. Sleeping seven to eight hours a night allows for brain healing and storing of the day’s memories. It also helps your body rest and heal for the day ahead.
A group out of Johns Hopkins University and the University of California compiled a report in 2014 based on multiple studies on the role of sleep and brain health. The goal was to determine the impact of lack of sleep on cognitive decline and an increased dementia risk.
The report indicates that a poor sleep schedule, meaning less than seven hours a night or inconsistent sleep patterns, is a risk factor for developing dementia, but that the underlying associations of how lack of sleep affects the risk of dementia are not clear. Does lack of sleep cause or compound dementia or are sleep issues caused by an existing undiagnosed dementia?
Either way, the report states, “Healthy sleep appears to play an important role in maintaining brain health with age, and may play a key role in [dementia] prevention.”
A 2018 study, conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Health, specific to Alzheimer’s disease, found that losing even one night of sleep can increase amyloid proteins in the brain. A buildup of this protein is linked to both impaired brain function and Alzheimer’s disease — good reason to clock at least eight hours of sleep every night. [ ]