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“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going”

There are no quick fixes to anything in life-including good health. While certain medications may slow the progression of a dementia diagnosis, no pill has yet to be proven effective in curing or stopping dementia’s progression. Eric Larson, a physician at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle says “When people ask me how to prevent dementia, they often want a simple answer, such as vitamins, dietary supplements or the latest hyped idea. I tell them they can take many common-sense actions that promote health throughout life.” There are no guarantees, but these common-sense actions are considered protective factors, or as insulation of sorts, against dementia.

Managing Blood Pressure

The role that cardiovascular health plays in the risk for a dementia diagnosis is significant. When a cardiovascular event occurs, like a stroke, the blood flow to the brain is impaired, which damages and eventually kills the brain cells, sometimes leading to a type of dementia called vascular dementia. As such, protecting your heart’s health also means you’re protecting your brain’s health.  In a 2010 study at Wake Forest School of Medicine, researchers found that between two groups of people with high blood pressure, the group that achieved overall lower blood pressure also had 19% fewer diagnosis of MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and 15% fewer cases of any type of dementia.

Exercise

There’s a reason exercise is at the top of every preventative measure list about dementia. Aerobic exercise is great for heart health and can also improve cognitive function. Professor Laura Baker of Wake Forest School of Medicine conducted a study measuring how aerobic exercise acts as insulation against loss of cognitive functioning.

For six months, one group of individuals completed aerobic exercise each week while their counterparts only did stretching at only 35% of maximum heart rate. At the end of the study the group of participants that did aerobic exercise each week showed significant lower levels of tau in their spinal fluid. Tau is a protein that creates plaque buildups in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The group that only did stretching did not show any reduction in tau levels.

Cognitive Training

Yaakov Stern of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons recommends maintaining “educational and mentally stimulating activities throughout life”. He says it fosters growth of new neurons and may slow the rate at which certain brain structures associated with memory loss shrink.

Diet

Recent years of research have popularized three different diets in regards to cognitive health: Mediterranean, Mind and Dash diets. The Mediterranean diet is chock full of fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables. The Mind diet is similar but includes more berries and nuts. Finally, the Dash diet includes more whole-grains, low fat dairy products and fruits and veggies. While all three have many commonalities, researchers have found that individuals who most closely followed the Mediterranean and Mind diets saw 50% fewer Alzheimer’s diagnoses. Those who prescribed to the Dash diet saw a 39% reduction.

Sleep

One of the many benefits of getting good quality sleep includes the brain performing “housekeeping” functions of sorts. Professor Ruth Benca of the University of California in Irvine theorizes that part of this “cleaning up” includes eliminating toxic substances, like tau and beta amyloid. The tau protein is responsible for the plaque buildups in brains of Alzheimer’s patients and beta amyloid causes the infamous tangles (the biomarker first discovered by Alois Alzheimer). In 2015, Professor Benca conducted a study showing individuals who reported more sleep problems also had higher levels of beta amyloid.

As you might expect, the more of these habits you routinely implement into your daily routine, the less likely you are to develop a memory impairment. Sarah Lenz Lock of the AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health says “It’s not just about running three times a week…it’s about a package of behaviors”. As with many other things in life, a quick fix won’t get you the result you want-overall improved health. Maintaining disciplined self-care, like making lifestyle changes discussed in articles like these will provide as much insulation as possible against factors that lead to a dementia diagnosis.  Professor Lenz also emphasizes that individuals implement these healthy habits as early as possible-as in, earlier that midlife. That being said, it’s never too late to start, even if symptoms have already started occurring. Dolan Memory Care Homes notes an improvement with the residents after a full night’s sleep and an active day with mental and physical engagement. While Dolan Memory Care Homes understands there is no cure for dementia, the focus is on quality of life and enriching each individual’s day.

Source: Wall Street Journal