Lifestyle and dementia: potentially modifable factors for preventing dementia
Dementia prevention, intervention and care series-Part II
In our dementia series we summarise the most important finding of the Lancet Commission on dementia. In this article we focus on the lifestyle factors.
No matter what the cause of dementia is (See our first article in the dementia-series), it seems as having a well “trained” brain protects from getting the symptoms and signs of dementia. Read more below on how you can keep your brain healthy.
With increased age in most populations of modern societies we will experience enhanced prevalence of age-associated diseases like dementia. On average life expectancy has increased by 2-3 months yearly for about 150 years. In this situation it is very important to prevent or delay development of dementia.
No matter what the cause of dementia is (See our first article in the dementia-series), it seems as having a well “trained” brain protects from getting the symptoms and signs of dementia.
The following factors are important for a healthy mind:
1) Training of the brain by
- Good childhood education seems to be quite important
- Good hearing turns out to be important. Hearing seems to be more important than seeing for unknown reasons
- Being socially active probably keeps your brain “healthy” by being exposed to different views and corrected in many small situations
- Being depressive enhances the risk of getting dementia
2) Preventing changes in the blood vessels of the brain by
- Keeping the body weight normal thereby having a normal energy metabolism
- Having normal blood glucose levels to keep the small blood vessels in the brain intact
- Having normal blood pressure is important for keeping the arteries in the brain in good shape and not participate in small or large bleedings
- Smoking is also enhancing risk of developing dementia probably due to atherosclerotic development in the brain arteries. Neurons in the brain may also be directly affected by components in the inhaled smoke
- Physical activity is another factor turning out to be important for brain health. By being physically active at least 30 min daily some of the risk would be reduced. The effect of physical activity on the brain might be due to signal proteins being released from working muscles (called myokines).
Several of the outlined modifiable conditions are related to diet like body weight, blood glucose, and blood pressure (Figure 1).
Thus, it is sensible to recommend a healthy diet including a high fraction of plant-derived foods with high intake of vegetables, fruit and whole grain, fish (in particular fatty fish), little saturated fat (found in meat and fatty milk products from ruminants like cows and sheep), limited amounts of salt (NaCl) and alcohol.
All these listed factors are potentially modifiable on an individual or societal level, and should be exploited to prevent development of dementia. As in most other situations it is much easier and cheaper to prevent than treat a condition like dementia.
Based on estimations of reducing risk factors we might expect about a 10 % reduction in the incidence of dementia from the outlined recommendations. Although we still have a long way to go before dementia is under control, this kind of effect would reduce the number of subjects globally by 9 million individuals in 2050.
Download the Lance Commissions report on dementia here.
Article edited by Christian A. Drevon, Lifebrain researcher. Professor emeritus of Medicine (nutrition) of University of Oslo, and consultant in the analytical contract laboratory Vitas Ltd. in Oslo Science Park. Has studied effects of nutrients and physical activity on health, with special focus on molecular nutrition and biomarkers.