10 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Dementia
The brain consists of 100 billion neurons with over 100 trillion synaptic connections. To put that in perspective, there are more neurons in your brain than stars in the milky way galaxy!
We used to believe that the brain was static, unable to grow and change as we age, but luckily we now know better. Neurogenesis and synaptogenesis are the process by which the brain grows and develops if it is in the right environment. This can occur at any age. Yes, you are never too old to grow your brain!!
The unfortunate reality is far too many of us are experiencing cognitive decline because our brains are not in an environment to grow, and instead are in an environment to shrink.
The startling facts are that fifteen (15%) percent of those 65 and older have Alzheimer’s Disease, and by the time we are 80 fifty (50%) percent of people will have dementia. Instead of this information instilling fear, I hope it instead instills some ease in knowing that we can address the top ways to reduce your risk. Here are the most common factors proven to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia:
- Know your levels! Values like low vitamin D, high inflammatory markers including homocysteine, imbalanced hormones, low thyroid and poor blood sugar control are essential triggers that drive neuroinflammation, plaque formation and eventually dementia. I highly encourage everyone to get comprehensive lab testing every 1-2 years to look at not just basic markers, but detailed analysis of your biochemistry.
- Use it or lose it…Get moving! This is true for the mind and the body. Movement plays a vital role in your cognitive function and not just your physical health. Studies show that engaging in regular exercise can reduce dementia risk by 30%!
- Stay engaged. Social interaction is necessary for healthy aging in every way. Loneliness and isolation has been proven to both increase risk of cognitive decline and accelerate cognitive decline for those already diagnosed. Call a friend, join a group, pick up a team sport, or anything else you desire to stay engaged with others
- Continue to learn! Like the muscles in our body, the brain atrophies and looses its neuronal connections when it is not used. It is vital that as we age we continue to challenge our brain, learn new skills, stay engaged and avoid watching instead of ‘doing.’ Learn a new language, pick up an instrument, learn to play paddleball, take up an art class….what ever it is that resonates with you, jump on it and stick with it…the brain does not want to sit idle! In the words of the great Arnold Schwarzenegger “Be Useful!”
- Control your blood sugar. Alzheimer’s disease is so intricately connected with poor blood sugar control, that for a long time it was also called “Diabetes Type III.” Having an A1C (average glucose) over 5.5% (some studies even say anything over 5.0%!) will increase your risk of developing dementia, period. Elevated blood glucose creates more inflammation, worsens cerebral vascular blood flow, and creates AGE’s (Advanced Glycosylated End Products). These changes cause oxidative stress and damage, and promote plaque formation in the brain. We recommend following a Mediterranean diet as a place to start. Skip the sugar, reduce the carbs and save your brain.
- Get toxins out! We know that mycotoxins from mold, mercury from dental amalgams and predatory fish, glyphosate and other pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, and other toxic pollutants can increase our risk of several disease including dementia. We highly recommend that people test for heavy metals in their body, avoid eating tuna, eat organic as much as possible to avoid pesticide and glyphosate exposure, and minimize chemical exposure in your home and body care products. For more info visit EWG.org
- Optimize nutrients and vitamins. Nutrient deficiency is a contributor to dementia. It is imperative that you know your status of B vitamins, omegas (especially DHA), homocysteine, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin E, protein intake etc. and make sure they are in the optimal range. We can’t expect our bodies to run on poor grade fuel! Make sure your nutrition regime incorporates high quality plant fats, low glycemic veggies, high quality protein and foods high in vitamins. Beyond food, supplements are almost always necessary to bridge the gap lacking in our food supply. Get tested and know what your body needs!
- Be Happy, have gratitude, lower stress, have a purpose, and find joy in your life. We know our thoughts dictate our physical health. Where our mind goes our brain often follows. Finding a path that is purposeful, low stress, and brings you joy will not only improve your day-to-day life, but it will also reduce the likelihood your brain will fail later in life. I respect life is not always easy, but work on forgiveness, healing old wounds and living in the gift that is today. Having gratitude and feeling joy will increase the odds that your brain and body will age gracefully and healthfully.
- Limit screen time. Prolonged screen time literally changes our neurotransmitters. We know that it feeds our dopamine pathways, leading to changes in our brain which do not promote health. Studies show that screen time of more then two hours daily has negative impacts on mood, clarity and promotes addictive behaviors. I recommend all adults limit screen time to no more the two hours daily.
- Check your medications! Many medications have been shown to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other Dementias. Even seemingly benign drugs like Benadryl carry a risk of increasing dementia. Please discuses your medications with someone well versed in benefits and risks of specific medications for you.
Dr. Nina Lewis-Larsson, ND continues to advance her knowledge of dementia support and prevention as a ReCODE certified practitioner with continual work with Dr. Bredesen and his team. She is also completing her AARM neurology Fellowship continually gaining knowledge of how to support anyone concerned about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
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Budson AE, Solomon PR. Other disorders that cause memory loss or dementia. In: Budson AE, Solomon PR, eds. Memory Loss, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Dementia. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 17.
Toxicant Exposure and Bioaccumulation: A Common and Potentially Reversible Cause of Cognitive Dysfunction and Dementia https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bn/2015/620143/