How to Stave Off Dementia

Q. I am in my mid 50’s and have a history of dementia in my family. My mother, three of my aunts, and one uncle died from it, and I want to do whatever I can to protect myself from the disease, if at all possible. My cousin lives in Japan, and he told me that seniors there are turning to gambling to stave off dementia, and this was recently documented by CNN. I also read that in the UK, people who spend at least 20 minutes on the beach in the sunshine each day can boost their vitamin D levels, which will help keep the disease away. I am not sure if these things really work, but I am willing to give anything a try. Do you know about things I can do to hold off dementia? Thanks for your help. 

A. From consuming more nuts and fish to taking a brisk walk each day, scientists say that certain simple everyday lifestyle changes can cut the risk of dementia, and these things are certainly worth a try (in moderation, of course). 

Gary Small, MD, a director at the UCLA’s Longevity Center, has spent the past two decades researching the ways lifestyle choices affect memory. In his book, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program, he argues that it is indeed possible to stave off dementia. Although it could be decades before we have conclusive proof from large-scale studies, Dr. Small believes we shouldn’t wait to start changing our behavior. Below is some of the best advice and suggestions from Dr. Small and other reputable sources:
 

Exercise: Daily brisk walks can lower a person’s risk for dementia by up to 45%. According to Dr. Small, “(w)hen your heart is really pumping, you deliver more nutrients and oxygen to your brain. The body secretes protective chemicals during physical activity—including a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is thought to spark the growth of neurons. Exercise can’t guarantee that you won’t get dementia, of course. But the hope is to delay the disease long enough so that you never experience symptoms in your lifetime.”

Mental Exercise (that is non-repetitive): In a groundbreaking study, older adults who received as few as 10 sessions of mental training not only improved their cognitive functioning in daily activities in the months after the training, but continued to show long-lasting improvements 10 years later. According to Dr. Small, mental exercise to stave off dementia should not be repetitive, and can be as easy as changing the route you use to drive home from work, every now and then.

Caffeine: A study done in Finland found that subjects who drank three to five cups of coffee a day had a 65% lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. But too much coffee makes it hard to sleep, and sleep is important for brain health. Moderation is key.

Diet: Make sure your diet includes lots of leafy greens and foods rich in omega-3s (like nuts and fish). Curry is also helpful, because it contains the spice turmeric. Research shows that turmeric may help prevent the accumulation of plaques that build up in the brains of dementia patients and that can interfere with communication between neurons. Research also suggests eating a diet high in vegetables and grains, and limiting foods such as sugar and red meat, can reduce the risk of developing dementia. 

Red Wine: A regular glass of red wine appears to have benefits, but researchers point out that binge drinking has been linked to an increased risk of dementia.

Quality Sleep: Research suggests that disrupted sleep isn’t just a symptom of dementia, but a possible risk factor. An increasing number of studies have linked poor sleep to higher levels of beta-amyloid, a sticky brain-clogging protein that in turn further interferes with sleep especially with the deep sleep necessary for memory formation. Other studies emphasize the importance of uninterrupted sleep for flushing out brain toxins. 

Social Engagement: Research shows that staying socially engaged may even protect against dementia in later life, so make developing and maintaining a strong network of friends a priority. Keep in mind that you don’t need to be a social butterfly to get brain benefits. When it comes to socializing, think quality, not quantity. In-person, face-to-face interaction is always best. 

Sunshine: A major study suggests plenty of sunshine in retirement could reduce the risk of dementia. The six year study looked at 1,658 American adults aged 65 and over who were free from dementia, heart disease, and stroke at the outset. It found that those who were moderately deficient in Vitamin D had a 53% increased risk of developing any kind of dementia, and for those who were severely deficient, the risk increased to 125%. For the average person, such levels are achieved by about 20 minutes of mid-day sunshine on the face and forearms, three times a week. 

Reducing Stress: Stress that is chronic or severe takes a heavy toll on the brain, leading to shrinkage in a key memory area of the brain known as the hippocampus, hampering nerve cell growth, and increasing your risk of dementia. To reduce stress, various studies associate spirituality with better brain health. Regular meditation, prayer, reflection, and religious practice may protect you against the damaging effects of stress. Daily relaxation should also be a priority (whether it’s a walk in the park, yoga, a soothing bath, or reading a good book).

Gambling: Some researchers have argued that gambling could be good for staving off brain disorders common in old age. A study by the Suwa Tokyo University of Science found that elderly subjects who gambled demonstrated an uptick in frontal and parietal lobe activity, and improvements in recognition. However, others warn that elderly gamers are especially at risk of addiction and being taken advantage of by fraud schemes such as internet lottery scams. According to U.S. gaming industry data, half of all adult visitors to casinos in 2013 were aged 50 or older. AARP warns that seniors are the fastest growing segment of gambling addicts in the U.S. 

Promising research shows that you can reduce your risk of dementia through a combination of healthy habits, including eating right, exercising, staying mentally and socially active, and keeping stress to a minimum. By leading a brain-healthy lifestyle, you may be able to prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and slow down, or even reverse, the process of deterioration.

Medicaid Asset Protection 

Do you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia? Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones.  We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Dementia Planning: 703-691-1888 
Fredericksburg Dementia Planning: 540-479-1435 
Rockville Dementia Planning: 301-519-8041 
DC Dementia Planning: 202-587-2797

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