Alzheimer's word cloud

6 Tips to Reduce Dementia Risk

Nearly 50 million people worldwide currently suffer from dementia, and this is set to almost double by 2030, and more than triple by 2050.

Alzheimer’s is the best known, most common form of dementia, the 6th leading cause of death in America, and once diagnosed with it, the average remaining lifespan is only 8 years.

The good news: you can reduce your odds of developing dementia in the first place, which Sharad Paul, MD discusses in THE GENETICS OF HEALTH: UNDERSTAND YOUR GENES FOR BETTER HEALTH (Simon & Schuster’s Beyond Words). Here are six of his best tips to modify your risk:

  1. Quit smoking

Several studies show that quitting cigarettes reduces risk of dementia markedly. One study of people from various ethnicities found heavy smoking in middle age as much as doubled the risk of later-life dementia. In people with Alzheimer’s disease, two abnormal proteins form plaques and tangles: firstly β – amyloid, a protein that ends up filling spaces between nerve cells affecting cellular communication; secondly, another protein causes a buildup within the cells and disrupts processes that cells need to survive. Smoking negatively impacts the body’s ability to handle these two problem proteins. Quitting has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia to normal within a few years.

  1. Moderate drinking

The damaging effects of excessive alcohol on the brain are well known. However, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has shown to reduce the risk of dementia. When comparisons were done between men and women drinking moderate amounts of alcohol (defined as 1-3 units per day for men, and 1-2 units per day for women), those that drank alcohol had a reduced risk when compared to teetotalers. However, once people exceeded this limit, the risk increased to the level of alcohol abstainers. Studies have also looked at what types of alcohol reduce risk, but it seems when it comes to dementia, the type of alcohol does not matter. There was no difference between wine, beer or spirits. Moderation is the key.

  1. Stay active

Compared to low activity, high physical activity level was associated with a 43% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, consistently across all studies. However, when studies were done on vascular dementia due to strokes, the effects were not as consistent across studies, as was noted in studies on Alzheimer’s disease. The Genetics of Health discusses how specific types of movement benefit the brain. Some of the results are quite surprising, especially the benefits of certain dance forms. Other studies looked at midlife physical activity and subsequent dementia risk (up to 30 years later) and found that there was nearly a 50% reduction in dementia when people were physically active in midlife.

  1. Eat a Mediterranean diet