Risks and prevention of dementia

Causes of Dementia

Risks and prevention of dementia

The greatest known risk factor for dementia is increasing age; most people with the condition are 65 years or older. There are also a number of other risk factors that may increase your chance of developing dementia.

Heart health
There is a variety of evidence linking heart health to brain health. The risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia appears to be increased by many conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes

Work with your doctor to monitor your heart health and treat any problems that arise.

Head injuries 
There appears to be a strong link between serious head injury and future risk of Alzheimer's disease. Protect your head by buckling your seat belt, wearing your helmet when participating in sports, and fall proofing your home.

Alcohol use
A number of alcohol-related brain injuries can occur if the recommended use of alcohol guidelines are exceeded, even by a small amount. These include Korsakoff syndrome and alcohol-related dementia. 

Type 2 diabetes is the fastest growing chronic disease in Australia and has been linked to dementia. Several research studies have shown that people who develop type 2 diabetes in midlife have a greater risk of developing dementia, such as vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease, as well as cognitive impairment.

If diabetes is left untreated, it can lead to blood vessel damage and inflammation, making dementia more likely to occur. It is important to reduce the risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Having your blood pressure and blood sugar levels checked regularly by your doctor.

Medical conditions
Other conditions that may produce or be associated with dementia are:

  • Down syndrome
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Brain tumors and brain hemorrhages
  • Infections of the brain
  • Exposure to certain toxins
  • Substance abuse

Promoting Brain Health

Taking care of your general health may help to keep your brain healthy and can even offer some protection against developing vascular dementia and other types of dementia. These include:

  • Exercising
  • Keeping your mind active
  • Getting the right amount of sleep
  • Keeping your weight within recommended guidelines through a healthy diet
  • Not smoking or using drugs
  • Keeping alcohol use under the recommended units of 50 per week for men and 35 per week for women
  • Staying socially connected
  • Preventing head injuries

Exercise and mental activity
Exercise can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes, and protect against those risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling, gardening, tai chi, or yoga, improves brain function. Doing these types of activities for 30 minutes per day gets the body moving and the heart pumping. Having a friend join you in these activities offers the added benefit of social interaction.

Physical activities that also involve mental activity such as plotting your route, observing traffic signals, or making choices provide additional value for brain health. 

An exercise physiologist can help you create an exercise plan.

Poor quality sleep, or lack of sleep, can lead to fatigue, immune suppression, memory problems, concentration problems, and mood disorders. Getting 7 to 8 hours sleep a night is usually sufficient for an adult, but can vary from person to person.

Healthy diet
A healthy diet is important to provide your body and brain the nutrients they need to maintain healthy brain function. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains will help you to keep your weight within the recommended guidelines, alongside consistent exercise.

A dietitian can help you to create meal plans that take your specific needs, and likes, into account.

Drugs & alcohol
Excessive alcohol or drug use can damage brain cells and create vitamin deficiencies, leading to Korsakoff syndrome or other types of dementia. There are also risk factors associated with smoking which include vascular disease, stroke and heart disease, all of which have been associated with increased risk of dementia.

Social connection
Leisure activities that combine physical, mental and social stimulation can help to keep your mind active and healthy. Maintain your social connections by visiting family and friends, joining a club or volunteering in the community.

Head injuries
All through your life, protecting your head will help to protect your brain.

In younger years:

  • Wear an approved helmet when doing sport such as cycling, skating, skiing, skateboarding, and rollerblading
  • Always wear a seatbelt to reduce injuries if you have a car accident

In older years:

  • Use safety features like handrails to prevent falls, and look at installing grab rails in your home
  • Exercise to improve your strength, balance, and flexibility - even gentle exercise like tai chi helps
  • Remove trip hazards such as rugs from your home
  • Avoiding using chairs or step ladders to reach things
  • Check the lighting in your home to improve visibility

Next Steps

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