Can dementia be prevented?

Health, Seniors
happy healthy retirees

Are you afraid of getting dementia?  Someone in the world is diagnosed with dementia every 3 seconds.

The U.S. National Institute on Aging estimates people over the age of 65 will make up 16% of the world’s population by 2050. This is up from 8% in 2010.

Recent polls suggest that dementia has become the most feared health condition among people over the age of 50. It’s even more than they fear heart disease, cancer and stroke.

The implication of what you read and hear is often that dementia just happens to some unfortunate people. This is true, but the vast majority of people can take positive action to reduce their chances of suffering from dementia.

Dementia is not an inevitable result of old age.  In fact researchers from the University of Southern California have concluded that managing lifestyle factors such as hearing loss, smoking, hypertension and depression could prevent one-third of the world’s dementia cases.

By increasing education in early life and addressing hearing loss, hypertension and obesity in midlife, the incidence of dementia could be reduced by as much as 20 percent, combined.

In late life, stopping smoking, treating depression, increasing physical activity, increasing social contact and managing diabetes could reduce the incidence of dementia by another 15 percent.

Making these changes doesn’t only affect your chances of getting dementia, they also benefit you in many other ways.

There is evidence from the Blue Zone communities that you can have a happy, healthy life as you age. You can help to prevent dementia naturally.

What are Blue Zones?

There are communities known as Blue Zones where people lead lively and active lives into their nineties and hundreds. Living in a blue zone and follwoing the blue zone lifestyle is protective against demntia. Research has now shown why this is so. This is not down to some special gene. It’s down to their lifestyle.

The term first appeared in Dan Buettner’s November 2005 National Geographic magazine cover story, The Secrets of a Long Life.

In 2004 Buettner and a group of anthropologists, demographers, epidemiologists and other researchers travelled  around the world to study communities with surprisingly high percentages of centenarians. He and the scientists interviewed hundreds of people who’d made it to age 100 about how they lived, then did a lot of number crunching to figure out what they had in common.

The five Blue Zones are Ikari in Greece, Okinawa in Japan, Ogliastra Region in Sardinia, Loma Linda in USA and Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. These are very specific communities – it’s not the whole of the island of Sardinia or the whole of California, where Loma Linda is.

The Blue Zones Solution published by Buettner in 2015 comes with these recommendations based on the research in those communities:

  1. Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full to avoid weight gain.
  2. Eat the smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or evening.
  3. Eat mostly plants, especially beans. And eat meat rarely, in small portions of 3 to 4 ounces. Blue Zoners eat portions this size just five times a month, on average.
  4. Drink alcohol moderately and regularly, i.e. 1-2 glasses a day. (If you have problems moderating your alcohol consumption, this is of course not advisable.)

These recommendations not only reduce your chances of suffering from dementia, but also reduce your chances of being obese, having heart problems, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers.

What else can help prevent dementia?

Diet alone may or may not be enough to prevent dementia, but fortunately there are other things you can do to reduce the possibility.

Check out this short video:

Weight training can help protect you from dementia

You don’t need to read much on this blog to know I’m a huge fan of weight training. This is because of the benefits I have found from regular weight training in my own life – both physically and mentally. So I was delighted to see this study.

Researchers at the University of Sydney have shown that strength training in older people protects some regions of the brain from shrinkage. They conducted a clinical trial for older people at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease due to mild cognitive impairment.

Mild cognitive impairment involves a decline in memory and other thinking skills despite generally intact daily living skills and is one of strongest risk factors for dementia. People with mild cognitive impairment are at a one-in-10 risk of developing dementia within a year.

They found that six months of strength training (lifting weights) can help protect brain areas especially vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease up to one year later. The researchers say:

“resistance exercise needs to become a standard part of dementia risk-reduction strategies”

So, all of these things can improve the quality of your life right now and may well prevent the slide into cognitive impairment and dementia.

Check out this interview I did on YouTube with Dr Rachael Rooney, a lifestyle medicine physician and a GP (community doctor). She has a particular interest in mind-brain-body interactions, preventative medicine & non-drug approaches that address the root causes of illness. Here she talks about strategies for preventing dementia: