Did you know that September is World Alzheimer's Month? This year the theme for World Alzheimer's Month is ‘Never too early never too late’ in order to underscore the importance of identifying risk factors and taking measures to delay or even prevent the onset of dementia. Being aware that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can start several years before symptoms start to affect an individual is also important, because it helps us as a community to start making healthy choices for our brain health. If you are interested in learning more about the different risk factors and how you can limit the risk of Alzheimer’s, then keep reading.
First, let’s talk about risk factors we can’t control. The biggest risk factor when it comes to Alzheimer's is age, even though dementia isn’t a normal part of aging. There are about 20 different genes that can contribute to the development of dementia as we age. Interestingly, almost all of these genes only increase the risk of developing the disease. There are only a few genes that directly cause dementia, but they account for less than 1% of dementia cases according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. The second risk factor that we can’t control is our gender, since females are more likely to develop dementia than their male counterparts, mostly because they live longer on average.
Since we can’t change our genetics or make ourselves younger then next, we should discuss the risk factors we can decrease. There are a total of 12 risk factors that are modifiable. With the right adjustments we have the power to prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases, especially if we modify each of these 12 risk factors. We will cover each of them individually below:
Risk #1 - Physical Inactivity
One of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of dementia is to stay physically active. Staying active is great not only for your physical wellbeing, but your mental wellbeing as well. It also strengthens your heart, increases blood circulation, and helps us maintain a healthy weight. The recommended amount of physical activity to strive for is about 30 minutes a day of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week.
Risk #2 – Smoking
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing dementia is to stop smoking. This also helps you decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, lung cancer and more. No matter how old you are, when you stop smoking, your health is dramatically better.
Risk #3 – Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Did you know that the over consumption of alcohol has been known to be a casual factor in about 200 different disease and injury conditions? Drinking more than 21 units per week also greatly increases the risk of dementia. Reduction in the amount of alcohol we drink increases the health of our liver, kidneys, heart, and more.
Risk #4 – Air Pollution
Clean air increases the amount of oxygen we take in, which contributes to the health of almost every cell in our body. Spending time in green areas, parks, and around trees has also been shown to increase our mental health. A growing amount of research also shows that air pollution increases the risk of dementia, so try to spend as much time in areas of cleaner air as possible.
Risk #5 – Head Injury
Some head injuries are preventable, but what is even easier is ensuring that we limit activities where head injuries are likely. This includes motorcycle accidents, sports, and falls. Head injuries increase the risk of developing dementia so, if you do participate in activities where head injuries are likely to happen, make sure you are doing everything you can to protect your head by wearing the proper protective gear.
Risk #6 – Infrequent Social Contact
As we age, it is natural to retire and become less social. It is also well researched and shown that being socially connected reduces the risk of dementia. So staying active in your community, and continuing to stay in touch with your family and friends is important.
Risk #7 – Less Education
Our cognitive reserve is developed with our childhood education, and the less education we have increases the risk factors that contribute to dementia. Not only should we make sure our friends, family, and children are as well educated as possible, but we should continue to seek out education and learning no matter how old we get. We never lose the ability to learn.
Risk #8 – Obesity
Since obesity is also a significant risk factor that contributes to the development of dementia, it should be addressed. With a healthy diet and about 30 minutes of activity a day, we each have the power to control our weight. Eating healthy food, exercising, and keeping our weight down also prevents us from developing heart disease and diabetes.
Risk #9 – Hypertension
High blood pressure has been identified as something that increases the risk of dementia. It also causes a host of other health issues. Managing hypertension with your physician through medications is a good way to prevent dementia and stop the damage that high blood pressure can do to your body.
Risk #10 – Diabetes
Much like hypertension, type 2 diabetes is a highly researched risk factor that contributes to the development of dementia. Doing everything you can to prevent developing diabetes and treating it consistently if you develop it is very important in reducing the risk of Alzheimer's.
Risk #11 – Depression
Much like social isolation, depression has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of dementia. Depression can’t always be prevented, so ensuring that it is treated as soon as possible is important.
Risk #12 – Hearing Impairment
Unfortunately, it has been shown that individuals who have hearing loss also have a significantly increased risk of developing dementia. Interestingly, using hearing aids does seem to reduce the risk. Make sure to address these issues as soon as possible, to reduce the risk.
Celebrate World Alzheimer's Month this year by spreading the word about these 12 different risk factors that are associated with the development of dementia, and the different things that can be done to reduce the risks. If you do have a loved one who has been recently diagnosed, remember that Homewatch CareGivers of Lower Bucks County is here to help you in any way we can. We have information and resources that can help you in your caregiving journey. Keep browsing our website for more information or contact us today to learn more.