Cognition

Strategies to Reduce Your Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia and Alzheimer's

Did you know the brain undergoes changes over time, and one notable aspect is its tendency to shrink? This natural phenomenon is linked to the onset of Dementia and Alzheimer's.

But there are steps you can take to minimise this. People who maintain healthy behaviours between the ages of 40 and 65 generally have a lower risk of developing dementia later in life compared to those who don't (R).

Understanding when and why the brain starts to shrink, as well as how to mitigate this, is crucial for maintaining cognitive health and reducing the risk of conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Which Part of the Brain Starts to Shrink?

The shrinkage predominantly affects the frontal lobe, hippocampus, and the cortex—the regions responsible for memory, decision-making, and cognitive abilities.

This shrinkage can affect various cognitive functions, leading to memory loss, reduced cognitive flexibility, and impaired decision-making skills (R).

When Does the Brain Start to Shrink?

The brain’s shrinkage typically begins around the age of 60 or even earlier for some individuals. However, the rate and extent of this shrinkage can vary widely among different people.

While some changes are part of the natural aging process, excessive shrinkage may lead to cognitive decline and increase the risk of neurological conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (R).

What is Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, characterised by the progressive degeneration of brain cells, leading to memory loss, cognitive decline, and behavioural changes.

While dementia refers to a set of symptoms affecting mental abilities, Alzheimer's is a specific neurological disease that accounts for a significant portion of dementia cases.

Tips To Reduce Your Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Understanding the factors contributing to Dementia and Alzheimer’s allows us to take proactive steps to maintain cognitive health. Here are some essential tips:

Eat a Healthy Brain Diet

Incorporating foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, leafy greens, and colourful vegetables, helps combat oxidative stress, which can damage brain cells. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon and nuts like walnuts are vital for brain health, supporting neuronal function and reducing inflammation (R).

Exercise

Physical activity improves cardiovascular health and enhances blood flow to the brain. Aerobic exercises, like walking or cycling, and strength training promote the growth of new brain cells and connections, supporting cognitive function (R).

Check If You Have Underlying Medical Problems

Conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can accelerate brain shrinkage. Managing these conditions through medication, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications is crucial to reduce their impact on brain health (R).

Check Which Drugs You Take

Some medications may have cognitive side effects. It is essential to consult a healthcare provider to review your medications and their potential impact on brain health (R).

Be Social

When we engage in conversations, group activities or maintain close social ties, our brains become more active and responsive.

This stimulation triggers various regions of the brain associated with communication, problem-solving, and emotional regulation.

In essence, social interaction acts as a cognitive workout, stimulating various brain functions and potentially contributing to maintaining brain health and cognitive abilities as we age (R).

Relax

Chronic stress can have significant detrimental effects on the brain. When the body experiences prolonged stress, it triggers the release of hormones like cortisol, which, in excess, can adversely impact brain structures and functions. Techniques like meditation, mindfulness, or engaging in hobbies help reduce stress levels, supporting brain health (R).

Don’t Hit Your Head

Preventing head injuries is crucial. Wearing helmets during activities like biking or sports reduces the risk of traumatic brain injury, which can lead to accelerated brain shrinkage (R).

Get Enough Sleep

Quality sleep is crucial for brain health as it plays a vital role in various essential processes. During sleep, the brain consolidates memories, integrating new information gathered throughout the day into existing knowledge networks. The recommended duration for adults is typically seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night (R).

Improve Your Gut

The gut microbiome, a community of microorganisms living in the digestive tract, plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, including influencing the brain. Probiotics, often found in fermented foods or supplements, contain beneficial bacteria that help balance the gut microbiome. Similarly, fibre-rich foods support the growth of these beneficial bacteria, promoting a diverse and healthy gut environment (R).

Challenge Your Brain

Engaging in mentally stimulating activities like puzzles, learning new languages, or musical instruments stimulates neural pathways, promoting cognitive resilience and reducing the risk of brain shrinkage (R).

Quit Smoking & Drink Less Alcohol

Both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption have detrimental effects on brain health. Quitting smoking and moderating alcohol intake can reduce these risks significantly (R).

Practice Positive Psychology

Cultivating positive emotions through gratitude practices, positive affirmations, and maintaining a positive outlook on life can benefit brain health and overall well-being (R).

Take Supplements That Slow Down Aging

Some supplements, like NMN, omega-3, vitamin D, curcumin, antioxidants, and certain herbal supplements, may have anti-aging properties. However, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional before adding them to your routine (R, R).

Manage Long-Term Health Conditions and Protect Your Hearing

Consistently managing conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, and protecting your hearing from loud noises, contributes to overall brain health and reduces the risk of brain shrinkage (R).

Environmental Risk Factors

Minimising exposure to air pollution by staying indoors during high pollution times, using air purifiers, and reducing activities that contribute to pollution exposure can help protect brain health (R).

Conclusion

Understanding the onset and progression of brain shrinkage empowers us to take proactive measures to maintain cognitive health.

By incorporating lifestyle changes, staying socially engaged, and being mindful of potential risks, we can significantly reduce the likelihood of cognitive decline and conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Prioritising brain health today can contribute to a more vibrant and fulfilling life in the years to come.



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Written By Natasha Jordan

BHSc Nutritional Medicine, International health - University Of Queensland

Diploma In Dermal Science - AACDS

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