Controlling These 3 Factors May Lower Your Risk of Dementia
Why is lowering your risk of dementia and keeping your brain healthy important? Dementia is a condition that often progresses to where it prevents people from living independently. Many people who develop dementia also suffer from memory loss, confusion, and problems with cognitive function and reasoning. Over time, the symptoms worsen and rob a person with dementia of their independence.
Here's a fact that may surprise you. Dementia isn't a single entity but comes in different forms. The most common is Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative and progressive form of dementia that causes the brain to shrink in size and brain cells to die.
A close second is a condition called vascular dementia, a type of cognitive decline caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. Atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque inside the arteries that carry blood to the brain, causes vascular dementia. When plaque builds up, it causes small areas of tissue death called infarcts that lead to the death of brain cells.
Both forms of dementia may progress and cause severe cognitive problems and memory loss. Genetics is a factor in who develops dementia, especially Alzheimer's disease, but studies also show that leading a healthy lifestyle can lower the risk. Some factors that may lower the risk include:
• A healthy diet
• Not smoking
• Limiting alcohol
• Exercising your mind
• Staying physically active
• Maintaining strong social ties
However, you can also lower your risk of dementia by controlling three risk factors for dementia that you can directly measure. Let's look at each one.
To keep your brain healthy, monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels that deliver oxygen and other nutrients to the brain. Uncontrolled high blood pressure damages the inner walls of these blood vessels, and this can reduce blood flow to the brain or result in brain infarcts that damage brain cells. Studies show that older people with hypertension are more likely to have markers in their blood that indicate a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease.
The best way to monitor your blood pressure is to check it at home several times per week at different times of the day. Record the value and show your health care provider. If the values are too high, they may recommend lifestyle changes or medication depending on the severity.
Having an elevated fasting blood sugar level increases the risk of dementia too. In fact, research shows people with type 2 diabetes have almost twice the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease relative to people with a healthy blood sugar level. Even having an elevated blood sugar in the prediabetic range raises the risk.
Just as you follow your blood pressure, have your health care provider check your fasting blood sugar level at least once per year and more often if you have an elevated reading. What if it's too high? One of the best ways to lower your blood sugar is to lose weight if you're overweight. Eliminate ultra-processed food and added sugar and adopt a Mediterranean diet, an eating plan linked with better heart health. Research shows that walking for 10 minutes after a meal helps lower blood sugar and make sure you're getting at least 30 minutes a day of exercise that raises your heart rate.
When your health care provider checks blood lipids, they're looking at LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, and blood triglyceride levels. Some studies find that high LDL-cholesterol and Alzheimer's is linked, although the results are mixed. When you take the data as a whole, high LDL-cholesterol during the middle of life seems to increase the risk and it likely raises the risk for vascular dementia too. It's less clear whether high blood triglycerides are a risk factor for dementia.
Regardless of whether blood lipids are a risk factor for dementia, make sure you're following your own blood lipid levels. If they're outside the healthy range, lifestyle changes such as exercise, dietary changes, and weight loss may help. Some people may also need medications.
The Bottom Line
Follow your blood pressure, blood sugar, and lipid levels closely and make sure you're leading a brain-healthy lifestyle. You need your brain to function for a lifetime. Treat it kindly! If you are looking for a safe place for you or a senior loved one in Logansport, IN, consider Pleasant Escape.
HopkinsMedicine.org. "Blood Pressure and Alzheimer's Risk: What's the Connection?"
Crane PK, Walker R, Hubbard RA, et al. Glucose levels and risk of dementia [published correction appears in N Engl J Med. 2013 Oct 10;369(15):1476]. N Engl J Med. 2013;369(6):540-548. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1215740.
National Institute on Aging. "Further evidence that controlling high blood pressure can reduce dementia, Alzheimer's risk"
Moroney JT, Tang MX, Berglund L, Small S, Merchant C, Bell K, Stern Y, Mayeux R. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and the risk of dementia with stroke. JAMA. 1999 Jul 21;282(3):254-60. doi: 10.1001/jama.282.3.254. PMID: 10422994.