Dementia is an illness characterized by a deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from normal aging. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgement. Dementia results from a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke.
Dementia is a rapidly growing public health problem affecting around 50 million people globally. There are nearly 10 million new cases every year. Dementia is a major cause of disability and dependency among older people. Additionally, the disease inflicts a heavy economic burden on societies as a whole, with the costs of caring for people with dementia estimated to rise to US$ 2 trillion annually by 2030.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps reduce the risk of dementia
Growing evidence indicates that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits. When possible, combine these habits to achieve maximum benefit for the brain and body. Start now. It’s never too late or too early to incorporate healthy habits.
People can reduce their risk of dementia by getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, controlling their weight, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, according to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) today.
Break a sweat
Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
Hit the books
Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.
Evidence shows that smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
Follow your heart
Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes — negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.
Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
Fuel up right
Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Although research on diet and cognitive function are limited, certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may contribute to risk reduction.
Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community — if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program. Or, just share activities with friends and family.
Catch some Zzz’s
Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
Take care of your mental health
Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.
Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.
“In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, the World Health Organization (WHO). “We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia. The scientific evidence gathered for these Guidelines confirms what we have suspected for some time, that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.”
“An essential element of every national dementia plan is support for carers of people with dementia. Dementia carers are very often family members who need to make considerable adjustments to their family and professional lives to care for their loved ones,” said Edna Williams, Director of Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association (VIAA).
“It is the goal of VIAA to providing guidelines that will offer the much needed knowledge base for health-care providers to advise patients on what they can do to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia. These guidelines will also be useful for governments, policy-makers and planning authorities to guide them in developing policy and designing programmes that encourage healthy lifestyles,” she added.
The reduction of risk factors for dementia is one of several areas of action included in VIAA’s action plan for the public health response to dementia. Other areas include: strengthening information systems for dementia; diagnosis, treatment and care; supporting carers of people with dementia; and research and innovation.