Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Developing Dementia

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​​Senior and Caregiver outdoors while raining

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s (…yet), there are a variety of ways you can change your day-to-day life to help reduce your risk of developing dementia. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is known as a progressive disease. There are multiple treatments that can be done to slow the pace of a person’s decline, but ultimately there is no way to reverse the disease. Your loved one might be able to function fairly well in the early stage, however, that could change very quickly. The speed at which an individual’s dementia progresses is as unique as their personality.

The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation suggests that there are 4 ‘pillars of prevention’: a healthy diet, regular exercise, brain stimulation and stress management. In addition to that, the Alzheimer’s Association also believes that sleep plays a big role in decreasing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

With that being said, we have blended them together to create Home Instead’s 5 Pillars of Prevention:

Pillar 1: Get a Good Night’s Rest

Sometimes this is easier said than done. There are nights where getting a healthy night’s rest is impossible, however, it is important to try your best. Last year, at the Alzheimer’s Associations International Conference, a study was presented to show that disrupted sleep may be “a missing piece” to the Alzheimer’s puzzle. Participants were given words to memorize overnight, while researchers measured and tracked their brain activity. Essentially, what the researchers found, was that people who had more clusters of a “sticky protein”, called beta-amyloid, awoke in the middle of the night and had worse memories.

Researchers found that the memories didn’t transfer from short term into long term, like they are supposed to. UC Berkeley neuroscientist Dr. Bryce Mander said, “sleep deprivation accelerates the bad brain toxins.” Sleep is a process that helps wash away toxic proteins to ward off build up – the group described it as a “power cleanse for the brain”. If your loved one’s sleep at night is insufficient, ask them to think about adding a nap into their daily routine. The Harvard School of Public Health and the Allegheny College studies both show that naps can do a lot for us: lower our risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, improve our cardiovascular recovery, help us avoid gaining weight, increase alertness, and boost memory! Wow!

Caring.com, an excellent online-resource for families with aging parents, has put together tips on how seniors can get better sleep. They say medication should only be a temporary solution, or better yet, a last resort. Experts agree that sleeping pills could be habit forming and that they are not intended for prolonged use. 

Pillar 2: Lace Up your Sneakers

We all know that regular exercise is important for a healthy body, but did you know that it could lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50%? A fairly recent study, by researcher Paul Williams at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, says that vigorous exercise seems to prevent shrinkage that occurs in the brain. We talked about how the brain diminishes to two-thirds its original weight in Alzheimer’s patients in our last blog post, Types of Dementia. Mr. Williams found that people who were running more than 24 km in a week had a reduced risk of dying from the disease.

You and your loved ones should be aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. It’s okay if you can’t run – you could attempt a light jog. If not, think about going for a brisk walk after dinner. Or explore alternatives: try a free beginner’s yoga video online for improved balance and coordination, go dancing, swim, or sign up for a couple classes at your local Senior’s Centre. Not only will you or your loved one get the benefits of an active lifestyle, you’ll also get to meet new people!

Pillar 3: Stimulate the Mind & Make Friends

We just talked about how beneficial exercising your body is; well, exercising your brain is even more important! Neurologists report that mental exercise can actually reduce your risk of developing dementia by 70%! One of the most helpful things you can do is engage your brain in new or different activities. The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation says that in order for your activity to improve brain function it must meet three conditions: it must engage your attention, it must involve more than one of your senses, and it must break routine in an unexpected way.

Try incorporating games: board games, puzzles (Mahjong, Sudoku), online games, or even video games. For example, the “Wii” gaming console has a set of virtual-fitness games that include sports like bowling, tennis, and baseball. It requires some movement, focus, and a keen sense of hand-eye coordination. If your loved one is a bit rusty at first, encourage them to keep trying – maybe even get the grandkids involved (We’re sure they’d be better at teaching grandma or grandpa how to play)! Experts agree that exploring new activities is paramount for a healthy brain.

Pillar 4: Have a Healthy Diet

What we eat has a substantial impact on our health. From a young age we are taught that having a well-balanced diet is imperative for our well being and overall health. It is even more important for our aging population. A study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that those following a Mediterranean diet were less likely to experience a buildup of the proteins known as ‘the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s’. The protein buildups can cause severe damage to nerve cells, leading to Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

A Mediterranean diet is typically high in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It is extremely low in red meat. Also, it involves excluding butter and opting for healthier fats, such as olive oil. Click here to visit Home Instead Senior Care’s article about the MIND diet, which is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. The DASH diet is intended to stop hypertension.

Moderation is the key. Try aligning which vegetables and fruits you’re buying with the harvest times. Your loved one will benefit from the nutrients and your wallet will also be happy!

Pillar 5: Relax

Just like sleep, relaxing is another one of those, “it’s easier said than done”. It’s challenging because stress is a reaction to a situation; that reaction is based on our human nature - our instincts - not the situation itself. Stress becomes a problem when we are not sure how to handle a situation.

The Canadian Mental Health Association states that you should not ignore stress, as it could lead to other mental health issues. When it comes to de-stressing your life, you have to start with changes in your own behaviour. It is so easy to fall into the same routines and reactions, like clockwork. You could find a friend or a therapist to talk through your problems. Ask for help with big issues. Learn to say ‘no’ when you really want or need to. Stop thinking that everything has to be perfect, or that the worst possible outcome will happen. Be active. Make time for hobbies and things that make you genuinely happy. Be creative and imaginative.

If you have more ideas on how to de-stress, please feel free to share them on our Facebook or Twitter page!  We would love to hear from you. And, if you’re thinking that you or your family might benefit from the relieving help a Home Instead Senior Care CAREGiver can provide, please call and book your no-obligations consultation. It’s totally FREE!

You can reach the Etobicoke office at 416.239.2200 or online at www.homeinstead.com/Etobicoke-on.

You can reach the Mississauga office at 905.276.2273 or online at www.homeinstead.com/Mississauga-on.

You can reach the Hamilton office at 905.521.2959 or online at www.homeinstead.com/Hamilton-on.  

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