Can Your Lifestyle Alter Your Risk of Dementia in the Future? Perhaps!

Many people fear losing their memory. There seems to be an epidemic of dementia. Not true - there is an epidemic of people living to older ages. You can take proactive action now.

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Can Your Lifestyle Alter Your Risk of Dementia in the Future? Perhaps!
5 Min Read September 30th, 2022

Your genes, environment, and way of life are just a few variables that could affect your chance of developing dementia in the future. Some risk factors are beyond your control, but there may be activities you can do to help lessen your risk, much as with many diseases. 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle today may assist in reducing risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Keep in mind, as more of us live to older ages, age itself increases our risk of developing memory problems. But don't despair; you can take action to reduce this risk.

Making healthy lifestyle adjustments is beneficial for your health. It is part of healthy aging, but researchers are unsure if doing so helps guard against dementia.

Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., the President, and CEO of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA), agrees that lifestyle choices can promote healthy aging and good brain health.

Lifestyle choices play a vital role in healthy aging and brain health, and it's never too soon to start. Eating right, exercising the body and mind, getting proper sleep, and being socially active all contribute to healthy aging and good brain health, and can potentially reduce the risk of developing a dementia-related illness.

Things to Do Right Now

The AFA offers these suggestions:

  • Eat Well-Adopt a low-fat diet high on fruits and veggies, like strawberries, blueberries, and broccoli. Limit red meats, fried and processed foods, salt, and sugar intake. Take daily vitamins. Generally, "heart healthy" foods are also "brain healthy."

  • Stay Active-Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain and can also help improve mood and overall wellbeing. Brisk walking benefits brain health, while aerobics can boost your heart rate, and weight training builds strength and flexibility.

  • Learn New Things-Challenge your brain by starting a new hobby like playing tennis, learning to speak a foreign language, trying a cooking class, or doing something you have not done before. Even something as simple as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand stimulates the brain by forcing it to think outside of its normal routine.

  • Get Enough Sleep-Getting consistent sleep every night is critical; at least seven to nine hours is ideal. Having a good sleep environment is also helpful. Insomnia or sleep apnea can have serious physical effects and negatively affect memory and thinking.

  • Mind Your Meds-Medication can affect everyone differently, especially as you age. Talk to your doctor or local pharmacist when getting a new medication (or something you have not taken in a while). Even over-the-counter medications can have an impact.

  • Stop Smoking and Limit Alcohol-Smoking can increase the risk of other serious illnesses, while too much alcohol can impair judgment and cause accidents, including falls, broken bones, and car crashes.

  • Stay Connected-Social interaction and maintaining an active social life are very important for brain health, cognitive stimulation, and mood. Engaging in your community and participating in group activities is also beneficial. Invite friends and family over for a meal, board games, or just to hang out.

  • Know Your Blood Pressure-Blood pressure can impact your cognitive functioning. Visit your physician regularly to check your blood pressure and ensure it is in the normal range.

  • See Your Doctor-Maintain checkups. Health screenings are crucial to managing chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, all of which can impact brain health. Speak with your physician about any concerns or questions you have about your health.

  • Get a Memory Screening-Our brains need regular checkups, just as other parts of our bodies do. Memory screenings are quick, noninvasive exams for our brains. 

The Alzheimer's Foundation of America offers free virtual memory screenings every weekday—click here to learn more about getting a free virtual memory screening. You can also talk to your doctor about getting a screening as part of your annual wellness exam.

The National Institute on Aging says it very simply. Their top five things to think about with brain health: 

  • Control high blood pressure

  • Sleep well

  • Eat a healthy diet

  • Keep physically active

  • Connect with family and friends

What About FTD?

There are many types of dementia, and we know Alzheimer's as it is the most common. Frontotemporal dementia (FTD). FTD is a neurodegenerative disease that disrupts personality, decision-making, language, or movement abilities. It typically begins between the ages of 45 and 65. It is the most common form of dementia in people under 65, accounting for 5% to 15% of dementia cases overall.

For some people, their genetic profile makes the eventual development of the disease virtually inevitable. Yet, while lifestyle choices will not prevent FTD, they could slow its progression.

Kaitlin Casaletto, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco Memory and Aging Center, says those with FTD fate may not be set in stone.  

FTD is devastating disease without good medical treatments, but our results suggest that even people with a genetic predisposition for FTD can still take actions to increase their chances of living a long and productive life.

About 40% of FTD patients have a family history of the condition. In about 50% of these cases, specific dominant genetic mutations have been found to be the primary cause of the disease. But even in these people, FTD might progress and affect them differently.

You May Not Prevent Dementia - But You Might Delay It

You might not be able to prevent the decline in your memory and need for future long-term health care, but you might be able to delay your mental decline.

Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., associate director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, says being proactive can be helpful.

We all want our cognitive lifespan to match our life span—we can't wait until signs of cognitive decline appear. We must be proactive now.

So be proactive with healthy lifestyle choices, maintaining an active mind, a nutritious diet, and regular exercise — all of this may help you protect against cognitive decline and dementia.

Half of Us Will Need Long-Term Health Care

Yet, about half of us will need long-term health care if we reach age 65. People need care for more than just dementia. Declining health, mobility problems, and even frailty will lead someone to need help with daily living activities or supervision due to dementia. 

As the cost of long-term health care explodes nationwide, the financial impact of long-term care can alter your lifestyle and legacy. The consequences on your family can also be life changing. Being proactive to reduce the stress on your family and finances. 

Many American families are adding Long-Term Care Insurance to their retirement plans. When you own a policy, you have control and avoid dependence on loved ones. You will have guaranteed tax-free funds to pay for your choice of quality care options—including in-home care. This will give your loved ones the time to be your family and not your caregiver.

However, you cannot purchase coverage once you need care, so you must obtain coverage when you still have fairly good health. Most people get coverage in their 50s. Seek help from a qualified specialist to match your age, health, and family history with the right company. If you have a parent or sibling who had dementia, it could affect your ability to get coverage from some companies.

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About the Author

Linda is a freelance writer interested in retirement planning, health and aging.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

Editor's Note

Getting older can be challenging. There are so many things to think about and prepare for before you get to the so-called golden years. No matter which way you turn, someone has their hand out looking for money!

Decisions you make today will impact how you retire in the future. The need for long-term healthcare is significant as people age. Medicare or health insurance does not cover the cost of this care. Only those with very low incomes and few assets are eligible for Medicaid coverage for long-term health care.

Lack of planning will be costly or force your adult children to become caregivers - something they will not be trained or prepared to do.

Long-Term Care Insurance can be a vital part of your retirement plan. Think of it as insurance for your 401(k) - or insurance to maintain independence - or insurance to access quality care - or insurance to allow your loved ones to remain family and not become caregivers.

LTC Insurance is affordable - learn how affordable - How Much Does Long-Term Care Insurance Cost?

The ideal time to get coverage is when you are younger and healthier. Most people get their policy in their 50s. Locate a LTC Insurance specialist you can rely on who has dealt with all the top companies and understands underwriting, policy design, and claims - Work With a Specialist.

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