There are things you can do right now to increase your chances of avoiding dementia, regardless of your age.
According to experts quoted in a July 28, 2021, Elemental article, increasing physical activity, challenging your mind, and eating colorful meals can help prevent or at least delay dementia.
The underlying mechanism of cognitive decline begins in early adulthood and, by extension, at an earlier age. Thus I don’t believe we can start too soon.
Walter C. Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
What kind of lifestyle can improve the brain?
Exercise may help delay the onset of cognitive decline by several years, according to an August 21, 2019 study in Neurology: Clinical Practice.
Researchers in China and Canada analyzed data from more than 3,000 Canadian adults 40 and older who reported no problems with memory or thinking at the start of the study.
They also reported their physical activity at that time. Participants were followed up every two years.
Results indicate that levels of physical activity equivalent to 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, are enough to delay the onset of cognitive decline by 8 to 11 years compared with sedentary adults.
However, there was no link between increased levels of physical activity and better cognitive function.
We found that people who performed low levels of physical activity were more likely to develop problems with thinking and memory skills. Keeping active by taking regular walks may help delay or prevent dementia.
Etienne Marmorat of the University of Montreal in Canada
Eating habits are important. Flavonoids, a class of antioxidant compounds found in spices and colorful produce, may help prevent cognitive decline.
A study published online on August 19, 2019, in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine indicates that eating flavonoid-rich foods is associated with lower odds of cognitive impairment or dementia among Japanese adults 40 to 80 years old.
Researchers drew from a large national study of more than 40,000 adults in Japan 70 and older who were assessed for dementia between 2000 and 2012.
Participants’ dietary intake was measured with food frequency questionnaires. Researchers also recorded diagnoses of cognitive impairment or dementia based on standardized criteria at follow-up visits for participants who did not have a dementia diagnosis at the outset of the study.
The results indicate that a higher intake of flavonoid was linked to lower odds for cognitive impairment or dementia, but only among those who were not overweight and had normal blood pressure.
Flavonoid-rich foods included apples, berries, grapes, onions, green tea, red wine and cocoa powder.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study to suggest that high dietary intake of flavonoid-rich foods might delay or prevent cognitive impairment or dementia in elderly individuals at risk,” said lead author Yasumichi Arai of Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan.
Challenging your mind
You don’t have to plan for dementia, but it’s never too early to start exercising your brain. Researchers say that mental and social activities that challenge the mind may help delay or prevent dementia.
A study published August 8, 2019, in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice indicates that total time engaged in cognitive activities — including games, puzzles and hobbies — had a similar effect.
Researchers analyzed data from 2,092 Canadian adults 70 and older who reported no problems with thinking or memory at the outset of the study.
They also reported their total time spent on cognitive activities in early adulthood and in late life (at an average age of 76). Participants were followed up for an average of about eight years to determine whether they developed cognitive impairment or dementia.
Results indicate that participants who engaged in cognitive activities for 900 hours or more over the course of their lives had a 29 percent lower risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia compared with people who never engaged in these activities.
People who started engaging in these activities later in life benefitted, too, indicating that it’s never too late to start.
“People who performed low levels of physical activity were more likely to develop problems with thinking and memory skills,” said lead author Etienne Marmorat of the University of Montreal in Canada. “Keeping active by taking regular walks may help delay or prevent dementia.”
Drinking coffee may help lower the risk of cognitive impairment. A study published August 20, 2019, in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine indicated that people who drank at least three cups of caffeinated coffee per day had a 20 percent lower chance of developing cognitive impairment compared with those who reported drinking less than one cup per week.
Researchers analyzed data from an observational study of older men and women in Chicago who were an average age of 73 when they joined the study.
The participants reported their coffee intake, which was categorized as zero to one cup per week, two to three cups per week, four to five cups per day, five or more cups daily or none at all.
This type of observational study found an association between coffee intake and cognitive impairment, but can’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
In this study, the authors also found that those who reported higher levels of physical activity were less likely to develop cognitive impairment or dementia.
What lifestyle causes dementia?
A lot of factors contribute to cognitive impairment and dementia. Some that you can control include a lack of physical activity, smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
Chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity may also make it more likely for you to develop cognitive problems.
In the US, about 5 million people have Alzheimer’s disease — by far the most common type of dementia. Other dementias include Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia and vascular dementia.
“If you don’t want to develop Alzheimer’s disease in your 70s or 80s, it might be a good idea to keep challenging your mind with activities like puzzles, reading books and socializing frequently,” said Dr. Marmorat. “Keeping your mind stimulated may lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by preventing the brain from shrinking, which is associated with cognitive decline in older age.”
Evidence is growing that the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia can be lowered by making lifestyle choices, such as engaging in regular physical activity, quitting smoking and controlling weight.
Keep your mind active too. You might start with puzzle apps on your phone or tablet.