From the walk you skipped this morning to the snacks you’ll have before bedtime, your daily choices may have a big impact on your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Here are the top ways you’re speeding the decline of your mind.
You eat crummy food
As far as your brain is concerned, you definitely are what you eat. A 2015 paper in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that the MIND diet reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53 percent in people who followed the diet “rigorously,” and by approximately 35 percent in people who adhered to it “moderately well.” The MIND diet calls for eating at least three servings of salad and another vegetable every day, and it promotes these 10 foods for brain health: Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, fish, poultry, healthy fats like olive oil, and wine (in moderation). And one of those foods deserves a special shout-out: “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” Martha Clare Morris, PhD, the Rush University nutritional epidemiologist who developed the diet with her colleagues said in a press release.
You’re not protecting your hearing
Hearing loss is linked to dementia: A 2011 study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Institute on Aging found that senior citizens with hearing loss were “significantly more likely to develop dementia.” It’s possible that the strain of struggling to hear could overburden the brain or that hearing loss could lead to social isolation, which is an acknowledged risk factor for dementia. Whatever the reason, study volunteers with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss exhibited a twofold, threefold, and fivefold—respectively—increase in the risk of developing dementia over a period of years.
You drink too much
As far as your brain is concerned, there’s a big difference between enjoying a glass of wine with dinner and bingeing on a Saturday night. A 2012 study from Rutgers University used rats to model “moderate to heavy drinking” defined as a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent. In these “drunk” rodents, the production of nerve cells in the brain’s hippocampus—the region involved in certain types of learning—dropped by almost 40 percent. “In the long term this type of behavior could have an adverse effect on learning and memory,” graduate student and lead author Megan Anderson said in a Rutgers press release.
You’re not caring for your heart
Common sense says heart health is directly connected to brain health. “We know what’s good for your heart is good for your brain,” says James A. Hendrix, PhD, director of Global Science Initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association. “If your heart is stressed and strained and your brain is not getting proper blood flow, it’s going to age more rapidly.” Indeed, a 2017 study in JAMA Neurology contributed to the body of research reaffirming this link. It found that middle-aged individuals with vascular risk factors—like hypertension or diabetes—were more likely to develop dementia as they got older.
You prefer the couch to the gym
Hendrix warns against letting concerns about certain sports lead to a sedentary lifestyle, because lack of exercise is another risk factor for dementia. In a 2018 study in the journal Neurology, for example, researchers tested women’s fitness by studying their performance on stationary bikes; women with “high cardiovascular fitness” had a dementia risk that was 88 percent lower than a “moderately fit” group of women, CNN reported. In addition, the study found that dementia symptoms began 11 years later in the “high fitness” group over the “medium fitness” group.
You don’t practice relaxing
The toll stress takes on the brain is frightening: A 2014 study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reported that among people already diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), those also experiencing anxiety had a higher risk of quicker cognitive decline. In fact, the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease increased by 33 percent among people with mild anxiety, by 78 percent for people with moderate anxiety, and by 135 percent for people with severe anxiety. “Our findings suggest that clinicians should routinely screen for anxiety in people who have memory problems because anxiety signals that these people are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s,” Linda Mah, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and principal study investigator said in a press release.
You regularly sleep less than seven hours a night
If you’re an older adult, the less sleep you get, the faster your brain ages. Using brain scans, neuropsychological assessments, and records of sleep duration, a Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore found that “those who slept fewer hours showed evidence of faster ventricle enlargement and a decline in cognitive performance,” according to a Duke-NUS Medical School press release. “Work done elsewhere suggests that seven hours a day for adults seems to be the sweet spot for optimal performance on computer-based cognitive tests,” lead author and Duke-NUS Research Fellow June Lo, PhD, said in the release.
If you want to do everything possible to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, put out the cigarettes for good. A 2010 analysis by University of California San Francisco researchers found that among studies without tobacco industry affiliation, smoking nearly doubled the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, studies that did have tobacco industry affiliations put the risk factor at less than one.
Written by: Kimberly Hiss – Brain Health Daily