12 ways to head off dementia
March 25, 2022—About 1 in 10 Americans age 65 and older has dementia—a loss of memory and thinking skills that disrupts daily life—according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Alzheimer's is the most common form.
But what if you could avoid that future? A report from the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care pinpoints a dozen risk factors for dementia that people may be able to change.
Addressing these 12 potential causes could delay or prevent up to 40% of new dementia cases.
Change your risk
It's never too early to start protecting yourself against dementia. Look for ways to lower these risks:
1. Brain injury. Wear a helmet during activities such as bicycling, sledding or contact sports—and if you work in occupations like construction, where there's a risk of head injuries.
2. Smoking. If you smoke, set a quit date and stick to it. Ask your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines that can help you quit for good.
3. High blood pressure. Get regular blood pressure checks. And if you have high blood pressure, follow your doctor's advice to lower it. According to the AHA, high blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors people can change. Adopting a low-sodium, heart-healthy diet and taking medicine, if needed, can help.
4. Excessive alcohol use. Talk with your doctor if you need help to quit or cut back. There are medicines and other treatments that can help.
5. Obesity. The AHA reports that obesity is linked to 7% of preventable dementia cases. Being active and eating right can help you slim down or hold steady. If you're not sure where you stand, use this body mass index calculator and talk with your doctor about what your results mean.
6. Depression. Tell your doctor if you feel sad or hopeless or have lost interest in activities. Depression is highly treatable.
7. Social isolation. Make time to connect with friends and family—in person or through calls, video chats and social media. And remember, you're never too old to make new friends.
8. Physical inactivity. Staying active might ward off dementia by helping you avoid obesity, diabetes and other risks. Inactivity is linked to 6.7% of preventable dementia cases, according to the AHA.
9. Diabetes. Take a risk assessment, and learn about things you can do to prevent type 2 diabetes.
10. Air pollution. Limit your exposure to air pollution as much as possible. For instance, you can spend less time outdoors and close windows when air quality is poor. Avoid secondhand smoke too.
11. Lack of early education. While you can't go back in time to change your own childhood education, you can advocate for the next generation. And for your own health, keep learning. Lifelong education and mentally stimulating activities might be protective.
12. Hearing loss. Being unable to hear well might contribute to dementia by reducing mental stimulation. To avoid hearing loss, avoid loud noises or use hearing-protection devices. If you have hearing loss, wear hearing aids to help you stay connected.
If you or a loved one has dementia
While you may be able to reduce your risk for dementia, there's not yet a surefire way to prevent it. Here are four steps for living better with Alzheimer's disease.