New Study Shows Lifestyle Factors Can Reduce Risk of Dementia
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 2 million people over the age of 65 in Germany suffer from dementia. However, recent studies have shown that individuals can take measures to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease and slow down the progression of dementia.
Prevention is key when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, especially since there is currently no cure. “We now know that preventative measures, taking risk factors into account, can have a positive influence on the progression of the disease and reduce the individual risk of dementia,” says Frank Jessen, head of the Cologne Alzheimer Prevention Center. He highlights the importance of a healthy, active lifestyle, which is estimated to account for up to 40 percent of the risk of developing dementia.
The Lancet Commission on Dementia and Prevention, an international research group, has identified twelve risk factors that increase the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease. These factors include poor education in early life, hearing loss, high blood pressure, traumatic brain injuries, harmful alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking, depression, social isolation, physical inactivity, diabetes, and air pollution in later life.
While not all of these risk factors can be controlled, there are some that can be influenced. A healthy diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and cognitive stimulation through activities like puzzles and cultural interaction can all have a positive effect on reducing the risk of dementia. Social activity is also increasingly recognized as important in Alzheimer’s prevention, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the lack of social interaction has led to a worsening of cognitive performance in many individuals with dementia.
In addition to the known risk factors, there are three factors that have been highlighted as particularly important in Alzheimer’s prevention: good hearing, good sleep, and avoiding head injuries. Poor hearing can lead to a decrease in brain stimulation, increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Chronic sleep disorders also increase the risk, as sleep plays a role in cleansing processes in the brain. Head injuries, even minor ones, can contribute to the development of dementia, especially in individuals who are exposed to repetitive head injuries, such as professional footballers and boxers.
While avoiding risk factors can protect against dementia, it’s important to note that the individual risk of illness is influenced by many factors and can be complex. Genetics may play a role in rare forms of dementia, but lifestyle factors and social background also have a significant impact on the individual risk. Studies like the Finger Study from Finland have shown promising results in preventing dementia through lifestyle interventions, and similar studies are being conducted in Germany to further explore these findings.
According to estimates by the WHO, around 1.8 million people over the age of 65 in Germany were suffering from dementia in 2021. However, if controllable risk factors are reduced by 15 percent, it is estimated that around 138,000 cases of dementia in 2033 could be delayed or avoided. This highlights the potential impact of prevention efforts in reducing the burden of dementia.
While it’s never too early to adopt a healthy lifestyle, preventive measures become particularly relevant in the early stages of cognitive decline, when individuals may experience slight memory problems or difficulties with complex tasks but are still independent. Cognitive activation through brain exercises and remaining socially active can be beneficial during this phase.
In conclusion, individuals have the power to influence their risk of developing dementia or slowing down its progression. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, staying socially active, and taking measures to protect hearing, ensure good sleep, and prevent head injuries, individuals can take steps towards reducing their risk of dementia and improving their cognitive health.]
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