The Ask the Expert Column appears in the Palm Beach Post every Tuesday!
Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk of getting dementia?
As we age, the thinking/cognitive part of our brain begins to change. We begin to experience a gradual decline in short-term memory; a slower processing of our thoughts and it begins to take us longer to learn new skills.
Beyond these normal changes, additional cognitive impairment can be caused by a number of sometimes correctable or treatable conditions — anxiety and depression, vitamin deficiencies, medications (too many or the wrong kinds), excess alcohol and other medical illnesses.
For some people, however, cognitive decline may progress to more serious difficulty with thinking and memory, such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia.
The good news is that there are a number of factors that may reduce your risk of dementia.
• Dietary factors — increased fruits and vegetables, coffee (before 3 p.m. so it doesn’t interfere with sleep), mild alcohol intake, omega 3 fatty acids, and limiting saturated fats.
• Cognitive reserve —education level as well as accumulated life knowledge can provide a “cushion” against future cognitive decline. Learning new things at any age can build cognitive reserve.
• Exercise enhances cardiac health and also protects against cognitive decline.
• Laughter — the use of healthy humor strengthens the immune response, lowers blood pressure and provides pain relief.
• Social support — relationships with family, friends and involvement in community service can protect against the isolation and loneliness that increase the risk of cognitive decline.
• Cognitive/mental skill training — we have long underestimated the ability of the human brain.
Research suggests that exercising our brain can reduce our risk of cognitive decline just as physical activity can reduce our risk of heart disease. Learning new things (not just practicing things we already know) is beneficial and protective.
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