Most of us probably know or have known at least one person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Considering there are 47.5 million people suffering from dementia worldwide, chances are you know more than one. (1)Perhaps you lost a grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, neighbour, or even a sibling or a close friend to the debilitating disease.
With 7.7 million new cases reported each year, it is fair to say that dementia has become a massive global problem. (1)Despite affecting such a large portion of the aging population, dementia is not a normal part of aging, and should not be thought of as so. (1) It is extremely important that everyone have a better understanding of what this disease is, and what measure they can take to prevent it from happening to them or their loved ones.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is not a disease itself, but actually a syndrome that is caused by other diseases or injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. It can be chronic or progressive, characterized by a severe decline in cognitive function. This includes a loss in (1, 2):
- thinking/ability to process thought
- learning capacity
This deterioration of brain function is usually accompanied by changes and a loss of emotional control, social behaviour, and motivation. (1, 2)
Dementia has three stages, early, middle, and late, which start with simple forgetfulness, to forgetting people’s names, and progressing to forgetting who their loved ones are and even an inability to walk. (1, 2)
Forms of Dementia
There are many different forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common, contributing to 60%-70% of cases. (1)Other forms include:
- Vascular Dementia
- Dementia with Lewy bodies (abnormal aggregates of proteins that develop inside nerve cells)
- A group of disease that affects the frontal lobe of the brain (Frontotemporal dementia)
Often, more than one of these can be present. (1, 2)
Currently, there is no cure or truly effective treatment for dementia, however there are several highly effective ways to prevent it. This is why prevention of dementia is so important. Below are nine things you should start doing today to prevent developing dementia, whether you are sixteen or sixty.
7 Habits to Prevent Dementia
1. Adequate Vitamin D
Surprisingly, vitamin D is not really a single nutrient, but actually a group of secosteroids that act more like hormones. Their primary role is helping the intestines to absorb calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and zinc. Unfortunately, it is estimated that anywhere from 40%-75% of adults are deficient in vitamin D. This is a problem because seniors who are mildly deficient have a 53% higher risk of dementia, and that number jumps to 125% in those severely deficient. (2, 3)
Though the exact mechanism for this is still unknown, there is no doubt that we need more of this nutrient. Our best source of vitamin D is synthesizing it in our skin from the sun, however this can be difficult due to our largely indoor lifestyles, and the fact that aging skin processes vitamin D less and less effeciently. (3, 4)
The current suggested intake of vitamin D from American Dietitians and Dietitians of Canada for adults under 69 years of age is 600 IU per day, and 800 IU for those over 70 (3, 4). The vitamin D council, however, recommends daily intakes of 5000 IU, and many health care practitioners are starting to suggest doses of 1000IU to 10 000 IU (a safe upper limit).(12) A study done by the Institue of Medicine found that intakes of 800IU-5000IU per day improved the health of bones and muscle in patients over the age of 65, and cummulative doses much larger than that over a the span of a couple weeks improved the health of patients who were deficient. (13)
Supplementation, especially for those in colder climates, who have indoor jobs, or darker skin tones, is often necessary. Other food sources of vitamin D include: (3, 4)
- Cold liver oil
- fortified yogurt
If you are looking for a vitamin D supplement, we suggest Suntrex D3 drops. This is a high-quality vegan vitamin D supplement that has 2,000IU per drop, making them cost-effective as well.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential dietary fat that is important for early cognitive development in children and learning and memory in adults. It is found in our cell membranes, and higher levels of this fat in our brain cells is thought to improve their communication with other cells in the body.
Though they have not shown to be effective in the later stages of dementia, studies have shown that supplementation early on in dementia may improve symptoms, and diets high in omega-3s or that have been supplemented early on in life can decrease your chance of developing the disease.
Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Oily Fish (mackerel, tuna, herring, and salmon)
- flaxseed oil
- chia seeds
Brands to check out when looking for Omega-3 supplements are Thorne Fish Oil or this vegetarian Omega-3 supplement for vegetarians or those with seafood allergies, or perilla seed supplement (also suitable for vegetarians, vegans, and fish allergies).
Keep in mind that fish is only beneficial when cooked in a health-promoting way, not when deep-fried.
3. Leafy Greens
Researchers from Rush university found that adults who ate one serving of leafy green vegetables each day had the same cognitive function of those 11 years younger than they are in comparison to those who did not eat the vegetables. (5)
The thinking is that it’s the high levels of folate, beta carotene, and vitamin K found in vegetables like spinach and kale are responsible for the brain-boosting effects. More research is being done on the role of these vitamins in Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention. Until then, be sure to get your greens in! These are your best options, try to eat one every day (recipes linked!):(5)
- Collard greens
- Brussels Sprouts
4. Get Proper Sleep
New studies show that lack of sleep, especially when chronic, may give the proteins that cause dementia greater access to your brain. Furthermore, a specific lack in the deep non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep may put your brain at an even greater risk for memory loss. This means that simple quantity of sleep isn’t enough to fight dementia, but good quality is also required. (6, 7, 8)
Our overly stressful, fast-paced, and demanding lives can make getting to bed in good time and having long, restful sleep seem impossible. Establishing a proper sleep routine is critical. From there, try using these simple tricks to help you sleep better tonight.
5. Decrease Inflammation
Chronic inflammation from stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet and lifestyle habits is not only causing us heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, but it also has a major impact on the health and longevity of our brains. Chronic, low-grade inflammation causes changes to our brain structure and is now linked to the neurodegenerative changes associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. (9)
Thankfully, there are several foods that are known to help decrease the amount of inflammation in our bodies. These foods include (10):
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
- Vitamin D rich foods
6. Increase Physical Activity
In combination with heart-healthy eating, a regular exercise routine can lower your risk of dementia. In addition to its cardiovascular benefits, exercise also increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain. This will protect your brain and keep it “young”. (11)
The exercise does not have to be long and intense, even just getting out for a 30-minute walk each day can be of benefit. It is important to include both cardiovascular exercise and some strength training exercise multiple times a week, for the health of your body and to prevent the onset of dementia.
7. Make Social Connections
More and more research is coming out about the importance of maintaining strong social connections and remaining mentally active can lower cognitive decline and the risk of dementia. Though not entirely sure on how this works, researchers believe that social and mental stimulation strengthens the connections between nerve cells in the brain. (11)
While mind games such as doing a crossword puzzle may be beneficial, what is even more so is doing mentally stimulating activities with others. Meeting a group of friends for coffee and conversation, hosting a paint night – anything that gets you mentally engaged with your friends and family will have benefit.
Though the brain is one of the least understood parts of the human body, scientists are continually trying to understand it better so that we can cure and prevent brain-related diseases. The important thing to remember is a healthy lifestyle, including proper diet, exercise, sleep, and healthy relationships with others is the best way to not only prevent dementia and protect your brain but to protect yourself from disease and illness in general and live a long, healthy, and enjoyable life.