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Dementia is a disorder that causes a decline in cognitive abilities so severely in many cases that it can impact daily life. The condition affects over 55 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization and while there’s no surefire way to prevent dementia, there are lifestyle choices that greatly decrease the risk and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who shares which bad habits to kick to lower the chances of dementia. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.

1. What is Dementia

Dr. Mitchell explains, “Dementia is a broad term used to describe a decline in mental ability. This can include problems with memory, thinking, and decision-making. While it is normal for some cognitive decline to occur as we age, dementia is different. For example, if you are over 65, your risk of Alzheimer’s is ‘way too high.’ If you are concerned about your risk of dementia, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.”


2. Risk Factors

Dr. Mitchell says, “Dementia is a debilitating condition that affects millions of people around the world. While there are many risk factors for dementia, the biggest is aging. As a person ages, their risk of developing dementia increases significantly. For people aged between 65 and 69, around 2 in every 100 people have dementia. A person’s risk increases as they age, roughly doubling every five years. While there is no cure for dementia, steps can be taken to reduce the risk of developing it. These include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, staying socially active, and keeping mentally active. However, the best way to reduce the risk of dementia is to get regular checkups with a doctor so that any early signs can be detected and treated accordingly.”


3. Smoking

Dr. Mitchell tells us, “Smoking is a well-known risk factor for several physical health problems, including heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke. However, few people know that smoking can significantly increase their risk of dementia. Studies have shown that smokers are up to 50% more likely to develop dementia than non-smokers, and the risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked each day. The exact mechanisms by which smoking increases dementia risk are not fully understood, but it is thought to be due to the damage smoking causes to the brain’s blood vessels. This damage leads to reduced blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain, which can lead to brain cell death. So if you’re looking to protect your cognitive health, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do.”


4. Poor Diet

Dr. Mitchell says, “A growing body of research has linked poor diet to an increased risk of dementia. In particular, diets high in saturated fats and sugar have been found to contribute to cognitive decline. One theory is that these foods promote inflammation in the brain, which can damage neurons and lead to mental problems. Additionally, diets low in healthy nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to a higher risk of dementia. These nutrients are essential for maintaining brain health, and a lack of them can lead to problems with memory and learning. Ultimately, eating a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Choosing foods that promote brain health can help reduce your risk of developing dementia.”


5. Lack of Exercise

According to Dr. Mitchell, “A sedentary lifestyle is a known risk factor for dementia. More active people were less likely to develop dementia. Furthermore, the more active participants had better cognitive scores at the end of the study. There are several possible explanations for why exercise reduces the risk of dementia. First, exercise helps to improve blood flow to the brain. This provides essential nutrients and oxygen that keep brain cells healthy. Practice also encourages the growth of new nerve cells and connections between cells. This can help offset the loss of brain cells with age. Finally, exercise helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body, including in the brain. Finally, inflammation is thought to play a role in the development of dementia. These findings underscore the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle as we age. Even light exercise can have a significant impact on our cognitive health. So get up and move today—your brain will thank you for it!”

6. Social Isolation

Dr. Mitchell states, “According to the Alzheimer’s Association, social isolation increases your risk of dementia. Dementia is a decline in cognitive function that affects daily living. It is caused by conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. Social isolation is defined as a lack of contact with other people. It can be caused by physical or mental illness, moving to a new place, retirement, or the death of a loved one. Studies have shown that social isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep, and memory problems. It can also make you more likely to develop chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Therefore, staying connected with friends and family is essential, participating in activities you enjoy, and finding ways to meet new people if you feel isolated. There are many ways to do this, such as joining a club or taking a class. Talk to your doctor or a mental health provider if you are struggling with social isolation. They can help you find resources in your community.”


7. Stress

Dr. Mitchell explains, “Stress is a common experience that can have both short- and long-term effects on our physical and mental health. While some stress is daily, persistent or severe stress can lead to various health problems, including anxiety, depression, and heart disease. Chronic stress may increase our risk of dementia by damaging the hippocampus, a brain region important for learning and memory. Stress can also lead to inflammation, linked to cognitive decline. In addition, chronic stress may worsen other risk factors for dementia, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. While there is no sure way to prevent dementia, reducing stress may help to lower your risk. Taking steps to manage stress, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and counseling can help you feel mentally and physically better. In addition, taking care of your overall health by eating a healthy diet and regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing dementia.”

Dr. Mitchell says this “doesn’t constitute medical advice and by no means are these answers meant to be comprehensive. Rather, it’s to encourage discussions about health choices.”

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