Research suggests that, unless there is a significant medical breakthrough that will lower dementia risk, there will be nearly 1.1 million people living with dementia by 2058.
Dementia is a term used to describe the loss of cognitive function like thought, memory, and reasoning – all required for a person to function in daily life. It ranges in severity and can cause the person to lose emotional control and undergo drastic personality changes. When dementia is at its most severe stage, the person entirely depends on others for basic daily activities. Around a third of people aged 85 and older are at risk of dementia.
Although it mainly occurs in older people, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. Many people live into their 90s without any signs of cognitive decline. Others begin to notice early symptoms like memory loss, trouble concentrating, confusion about time and place, and difficulty in following a conversation.
Eventually, the person will have trouble finding words, suffer mood swings, and performing daily tasks will be challenging or impossible. Dementia is debilitating; it is incurable, and treatments are limited. But what is the cause, and what are the associated risks?
Causes of Dementia and Risk Factors
The causes of dementia can vary and depend on which changes within the brain cause it, as well as any underlying conditions. A rare genetic mutation causes dementia, but this is in a relatively small number of people.
The primary root cause of dementia is unknown, so there are no concrete medical procedures to prevent it, and it’s becoming more prevalent. As of 2022, around 28,000 people in their 30s, 40s and 50s experienced younger onset dementia. Because of the lack of understanding of dementia, these numbers are concerning.
What DO we know about what causes dementia?
Dementia is linked to degenerative neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and certain types of multiple sclerosis – all these diseases worsen over time.
Vascular disorders that affect the brain’s blood circulation also cause it, as do long-term alcohol or drug use. Additionally, traumatic brain injuries, HIV, and central nervous system infections like meningitis, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, can also cause dementia.
Besides irreversible medical issues, various reversible health problems like tumors, blood clots in the brain, metabolic disorders, hypothyroidism, and hypoglycemia can cause cognitive decline. When you tackle health concerns like this, it could help lower dementia risk.
Who is at risk?
Certain lifestyle and genetic factors can increase the risk of dementia, for example, smoking, heavy alcohol use, poor diet, lack of exercise, depression, and sleep apnea. Those with heart disease or diabetes are not only at risk of serious illness but also of dementia.
The most common risk factors for dementia are age, family history, and Down syndrome. The risk of dementia drastically increases after age 65, and if you have a family member with dementia, it puts you at greater risk of developing it. Additionally, people with Down syndrome are prone to developing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Does this mean that there is nothing we can do to prevent dementia? Not exactly. There are healthy habits that have been proven to help lower dementia risk. People with genetic or lifestyle risk factors should incorporate these habits into their daily lives.
Habits to Reduce Risk of Dementia
Although it is an incurable condition, lowering the risk of dementia is possible by making a few simple lifestyle changes and sticking to them. In a world where dementia is rising, we must do what we can to reduce potential risk.
The good news is that researchers have discovered that even those who are genetically disposed to the condition can lower dementia risk by as much as 43% with the following lifestyle changes:
- Lead an active lifestyle. Get at least half an hour of activity every day; it can increase the length and quality of your life and may reduce dementia risk.
- Eat a nutritious diet with a balanced intake of vitamins and minerals. Low levels of vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and folate can increase the risk of dementia.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke. Smokers are at a higher risk of serious illness and dementia.
- Maintain healthy blood pressure. It reduces the strain on your heart, arteries, and other organs.
- Get enough sleep.
- Keep cholesterol in check. High cholesterol can clog arteries and cause strokes and heart disease.
- Reduce blood sugar. High blood sugar damages the heart, nerves, kidneys, and eyes.
- Reduce inflammation.
- Avoid medications that can worsen memory, like over-the-counter sleep aids that contain diphenhydramine.
There may not be a 100% effective way of lowering the risk of dementia, but leading a healthy lifestyle can address risk factors and help reduce the likelihood of it happening to you and your loved ones.