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Your Dementia-Prevention Plan

Your Dementia-Prevention Plan

Keeping your cognitive powers humming through middle and later years can improve everything from your cardiovascular system to your social life. First step?  Use your brain -- and discover just how this can help protect your mind and body from dementia.

A groundbreaking study revealed the simple steps that should be the cornerstones of your personal dementia-prevention plan. The FINGER Study (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study) followed 1,260 folks ages 60 to 77 with modifiable risk factors for dementia – such as diabetes, obesity, poor nutrition, etc. Researchers found that a lifestyle makeover -- adding more physical activity, better nutrition, increased social support, brain-stimulating activities, fun and staying heart healthy -- delivers big brain benefits. After just two years, people on this “demolish dementia” regimen scored significantly higher on tests of memory, thinking skills, and mental processing speed than a control group who got only good advice.

This study will have a seven-year follow up to track participants’ development of dementia to look for biomarkers using MRIs and PET scans. And around the world, there’s plenty of other ongoing medical-research that we’re rooting for: Some will improve diagnosis -- they’re experimenting with smell, eye, and blood tests that can detect super-early signs of brain changes -- and others are focusing on medications that might stall or prevent dementia’s onset. There’s even research on brain-tissue transplants that may be able to reverse the ravages of this progressive disease. But we think the FINGER Study’s recent results show that you don’t have to wait for a revolutionary medical treatment to help protect your brain from cognitive decline.

Try these tips to lower your risk of dementia:

Manage stress. This is key. Learn to meditate, do progressive muscle relaxation, yoga or whatever tames your keyed-up feelings. It’s also relaxing -- and good for the brain -- to spend time with friends and family and to pursue your passions, too.

Move it! People who are physically fit in their middle years are up to 35% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s later on. But it’s never too late to boost your brainpower; regular walking can increase growth in the brain’s hippocampus and prefrontal cortex -- important for building and protecting memory -- even if you’re in your 60s, 70s, or 80s.   

Eat like you live along the Mediterranean. Good fats, found in olive oil, salmon, sea trout, and nuts, along with plenty of fruits and veggies, lean protein, 100% whole grains, and a smidge of low or no-fat dairy is the way to go. This diet could cut your risk 15 to 40%. Bump up your intake of brain-pampering omega-3 fatty acids by taking a daily supplement containing 900 milligrams of DHA, too.  

Control known brain-damagers. Stop smoking (everything) and avoid second- and thirdhand smoke or fumes from tobacco, marijuana, and vaping! Take high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and diabetes very seriously. All three damage blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your brain. Ignoring these conditions could boost your risk for vascular dementia (caused by clogged vessels or mini strokes) by as much as 46%.

Challenge your brain in new ways. Dust off your guitar, break out the Scrabble board or learn a complicated new card game. Brain-stimulating activities just three days a week in midlife and beyond can fend off dementia by 3 to 8 years or longer. The key: New thought patterns encourage your brain to grow new neural connections. If you’re already a crossword puzzle ace, try a math game like Sudoku.

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

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