Can I Reduce Dementia Risk—Even If I have a Family History?

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There are 6.2 million people living with Alzheimer's disease in the U.S. alone, making it the fifth leading cause of death in the country. That's roughly 1 in 9 people over age 65. That number is estimated to go up due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, these stats mean that many of us likely know someone with dementia or Alzheimer's and may even have a family history of cognitive-related conditions.

There are a number of genes that influence your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, both positively and negatively. While genes can be inherited, there are other factors that can impact the way in which genes express themselves in a person. Many things can “turn on” and “turn off” genes, like environment, lifestyle, risk-factor management and others. There are several factors at play when it comes to cognitive health. However, there’s just one thing that stands alone for its protective benefits—and that is living a healthy lifestyle.

Yahoo News’ recent article entitled “The #1 Way to Reduce Dementia Risk—Even If You Have Family History” reports that a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that , depending on genetic risk, some people with a healthy lifestyle had an almost 300% lower risk of developing dementia than those with an unhealthy lifestyle. Looking deeper into the research, the article tried to find out exactly what that means for you, so that you can stay healthy and sharp for longer.

A big part of a healthy lifestyle is moving your body. Studies have found that regular exercise can protect against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day.

Another significant part of leading a healthy lifestyle is having a healthy, balanced diet. When it comes to dementia, there are some specific recommendations that provide extra benefits, like the MIND diet, which is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, that focuses on super-brain-healthy foods. Recent research has found that eating in line with the MIND diet can lessen risk of cognitive decline, even if you’re already experiencing symptoms.

On the other hand, there are a number of unhealthy habits that can increase your risk for cognitive decline. Not eating a nutritious diet and being inactive are big contributors. However, there are several other less obvious unhealthy lifestyle habits. Not getting enough sleep can put a serious strain on your brain.

Although it may be less concrete, having good social support is critical for staying sharp as you get older. Research has shown that people who feel socially isolated are at risk for diminished brain function. Try to regularly set aside time to be social, even if it’s virtual.

Remember, eating well, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep and being social can all help you stay sharp as you age.

Reference: Yahoo News (Oct. 25, 2021) “The #1 Way to Reduce Dementia Risk—Even If You Have Family History”


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