Dementia is an umbrella term for a significant decline in mental ability, such as memory loss. Alzeheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia–accounting for about 60 to 80 percent of cases–but there are many other forms of it. Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease are also common conditions that can cause dementia.
Dementia causes changes in cognitive abilities that impair and impede daily life, affecting a person’s independence, behavior, relationships and emotions.
Serious mental decline, contrary to popular belief, is not actually a normal symptom of aging. While there’s nothing you can do to cancel out risks factors like age and genetics, there are lots of ways to keep your mind sharp and your body healthy that may help prevent dementia.
1. Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise are all ways to boost your overall health as you age. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you’ll want to make sure you are properly managing these conditions with the help of your healthcare provider.
Exercise is particularly important, and there is evidence that thirty minutes of moderate aerobic exercise three to four days a week can prevent the onset Alzheimer’s, or slow down its progression for those who’ve already shown some symptoms of cognitive decline.
Getting enough sleep—seven to eight hours a night—is also highly recommended.
2. Consider a Mediterranean Diet
You’ll also want to make every effort to eat a healthy and nutritious diet. Harvard Medical School indicates that eating a Mediterranean diet could help ward off or slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s. A Mediterranean diet includes tons of healthy, nutritious foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, legumes and fresh fish. There’s also room for some chicken, eggs and dairy.
This guide to the Mediterranean diet is a great place to start. There are also excellent Mediterranean diet books and blogs to keep you motivated, inspired and satisfied.
3. Maintain an Active Social Life–and Keep Learning!
There’s also some evidence that staying active in your community can help keep your mind sharp. Keep attending church, join a book club or meet your friends for lunch a few times a month.
Mental stimulation from activities like brain puzzles, crosswords, reading a book or learning something new may also help prevent dementia. There are loads of online classes to check out, but your local community college may also have continuing education courses that are both interesting and inexpensive.
Preventing dementia is difficult, but taking good care of your mind, body and soul is a great place to start. Plus, new research into preventing cognitive decline is always underway. There’s some research that indicates klotho proteins may help improve cognitive function and prevent the onset of dementia.
At your annual physical, ask your doctor about your risk of developing dementia. He or she can review your medical history with you and suggest a plan to keep your mind sharp as you age.