Prevent Dementia at Any Age

Prevent Dementia at Any Age

Forgot something? You’re not alone. One in eight baby boomers has memory lapses, at least once in a while, a recent survey says. And whether you’ve forgotten where you put the car keys or the name of your favorite Olympic ice skating move (Toe loop? Triple…?), even small slips leave you wondering whether your gray cells still have what it takes.

Related: How Can I Prevent Memory Loss as I Age?

There’s no health threat that scares people over age 55 more than dementia. One in five will experience brain drain from fuzzy thinking and memory lags, to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But a lot of it doesn’t have to happen. While some causes of memory loss are genetic, it’s never too early or too late to build a bigger, more nimble brain and postpone memory loss by a decade or far more. Here’s how it works.

Brain scientists love to say that the brain is “plastic,” which means it’s flexible and capable of growing new cells and making strong new connections between them, at any age. That means brain-friendly lifestyle changes can help protect you from developing memory problems. And giving your gray matter a little extra love after you notice moments of less-than-perfect recall will help you, too.

Start with these lifestyle upgrades:

  1. Enjoy a healthy diet: Include fresh produce, lean protein, good fats, 100 percent whole grains and a little fat-free dairy, while you steer clear of added sugars, syrups, trans and saturated fats and any grain that’s not 100 percent whole.
  2. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise daily: According to new reports you’ll build a bigger, sexier brain (the only organ in the body where size really does matter) in just three months. Exercise enlarges the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for memory, and an area called the anterior cingulate cortex that helps regulate emotional intelligence—and nothing is smarter than mutually satisfying emotional intimacy.
  3. Learn something new: Try a new skill, hobby or game, or even finding new directions to a place you visit regularly, will create more connections that also help enlarge your hippocampus, which shrinks your risk of memory loss.
  4. Learn to manage stress: Stress is the greatest cause of memory loss linked to a shrinking hippocampus. You can use meditation and behavioral modification to control your reaction to stressful events.
  5. Get your blood sugar levels normal: Slightly raised sugar levels—even if you don’t have diabetes or prediabetes—will affect your memory. Excess blood glucose causes inflammation, which damages brain cells. In one new study, people had their sugar levels tested and were asked to memorize 15 words, then repeat them a half-hour later. Those with higher levels of blood sugar remembered, on average, two fewer words. Lower blood sugar is, like regular exercise, linked to a bigger hippocampus, which mean more room for long-term memory storage.
  6. Take in enough magnesium: This mineral ensures strong links between your brain cells, so you have a big network ready to solve problems—and remember where your car is parked at the mall. You need 420 milligrams daily, but most of us fall short. Turn to brown rice, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach, shredded wheat, lima beans and bananas to top off your tank.
  7. Take vitamin D3: Vitamin D3 canprotect your DNA. Shortchanging yourself could leave your brain cells vulnerable to damage from free radicals (rogue oxygen molecules that attack DNA). Aim for 1,000IU daily from a D3 supplement.
  8. Sleep well: Good sleep is like a nightly clean-up. While you snooze, your brain’s busy taking out the trash. A new lab report reveals that during sleep, the brain may turn on its “self-clean” function. This newly-discovered process may help explain why most of us need eight hours of sleep nightly for optimal learning, problem-solving and recall.
  9. Go for the Yogurt: The beneficial effects of good bacteria in your gut—you can get them from fermented foods like low fat, no-sugar-added yogurt—reach all the way to your brain. One study showed that women who ate yogurt containing live cultures had more connections between an important part of the brain stem and a brain area involved with thinking skills.

Related: Dr. Oz’s Best Anti-aging Tips 

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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