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Six Lifestyle Choices to Avoid Dementia

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

No longer does Alzheimer's or dementia have to be a fate for the aging over which they have no control.  Although our genes may predispose us to memory impairment, there are lifestyle choices that can greatly influence how we age.  And research shows, the sooner and more regularly we implement these factors, the less likely we are to be affected by Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

  1. Physical Activity.  Exercise doesn't have to be highly intense to provide benefits; it can be as simple as a daily walk.  Aerobic activities like walking, biking or jogging require oxygen to produce energy, and evidently protect brain function better than nonaerobic activity like golf, tennis and weight-lifting.  The cognitive benefits come from pumping oxygen and sugar-rich blood to the brain.  The Alzheimer's Association recommends doing activities you enjoy for at least 30 minutes a day.

  2. Maintain a Healthy Weight.  Did you know the heavier a person is, the more likely they are to develop Alzehiemer's?  Paul Thompson, professor of neurology at UCLA School of Medicine researched and found that brains of older adults who were obese (BMI over 30) had approximately 8 percent less brain volume than those of normal weight (BMI between 18.5 and 25).  When brain volume reaches about 10 percent, memory trouble or confusion set in.  Other studies indicate that people that are obese in midlife are three times more likely to develop Alzheimer's.  Added pounds cause fat to be deposited in the brain and narrows the blood vessels that deliver fuel, causing brain cells to die.

  3. Stimulate your Brain.  You should regularly participate in learning that challenges you.  Partake in puzzles like Sudoku, crossword and other brain exercises.  Activities can be fun, active and challenging, such as learning new dance steps.  Although advanced education does seem to show protection against dementia, it's never too late to stimulate your brain.  No one is exactly certain what works, but researchers have extrapolated that lifelong and curiosity has benefits on aging.

  4. Stay Social.  People with larger social networks fair better than those that are isolated.  Interaction and social connections stimulates the brain.  Participate in brain stimulating activities with your friends. If you live alone, be sure to engage in life outside your home.  Keeping friends, and constantly making new connections is healthy.  Senior living communities such as Parkwood Heights offer many opportunities for socialization and friendships.

  5. Eat Healthy.  It's recommended that we get plenty of fruits and vegetables with dark skins like spinach, beets, red peppers, onions, eggplant, prunes, berries and cherries.  Leafy vegetables are particularly helpful.  Also fish, high in omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial.  Be sure to include nuts, such as almonds walnuts and pecans with high levels of vitamin E, antioxidants.  The Mediterranean diet seems to be particularly protective against Alzheimer's.

  6. Control your Health.  Health issues like high blood pressure in old age is a strong risk factor for Alzheimer's.  A study published in the journal Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders found people in their 40s with slightly elevated cholesterol were also more likely to develop Alzheimer's.  In addition, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease can also affect the development of Alzheimer's. Be sure to get control over chronic diseases early to avoid premature aging of your brain.