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4 Ways to Destroy Your Dementia Risk


No matter your age, there is plenty YOU can do to protect your brain health – across your lifespan.

My passion and sub-specialty as a sports neurologist have led me down some fantastic and exciting paths when it comes to helping people harness the brain's power to help them achieve optimal performance – whether it's on a sports field, in a classroom, or a boardroom. Yet my primary specialty as a neurologist has me also recognizing ways that a keen focus on brain health throughout a person's life is significant to reducing the damaging effects of brain diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

If you've lived long enough, you probably know at least one person who has suffered the devastating effects of Alzheimer's disease or dementia. For the longest time in history, society believed that dementia was simply an unpreventable consequence of aging. Alzheimer's was thought to be something that we watched consume our loved ones as we sat by in horror, powerless to stop it. To watch a person slowly forget the people they love, the life they've lived, their name, and, sadly, how to breathe or eat on their own is a horror I wish on no one.

Not today.

In recent years, modern neurological science and brilliant research in the field have revealed MANY ways we can help to end the unnecessary suffering brought on by dementia. And whether you are the youngest or oldest among us, you can do plenty of things to lower your dementia risk.

  1. Exercise More. I could cite the thousands (and growing) bodies of research that indicate activity for improved brain health and dementia risk reduction. The bottom line is that moving your body is good for your brain, and too few people today move their bodies enough to get the brain benefits of exercise. Modern, automated society has made us less dependent on movement to get us what we need these days, and our brains are suffering as a result. You CAN fix that. Commit to exercising most days a week – no matter what. You don't need a gym, plan, or special equipment. Brisk walking works.
  2. Eat Well. If your heart and other vital organs are impacted by what you eat – so too is your brain. The Standard American Diet is just that – sad. It is devoid of brain-boosting nutrients and washes our brains in franken-chemicals that do catastrophic damage. But this, too, is something you can fix. If removing comfort or convenience foods entirely from your diet seems impossible, try adding healthy foods instead. For example, no matter what else you eat in a day, consider including at least one leafy green vegetable and one fruit in the mix every day.
  3. Mind Your Mental Health. Much recent research points to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) as a potential risk factor for the development of dementia later in life. While there isn't much you can do as an adult to fix what happened to you as a child; many therapists specialize in helping adults work through traumatic experiences from childhood. No matter the root cause, especially if you don't know what it is, seeking mental health care is imperative for brain health right now and in the future.
  4. Prioritize Relationships. I know that technology and a global pandemic have taken the place of real human interaction for many of us, but there truly is no replacement. It is crucial to prioritize in-person social and family connections that bring you joy. Social isolation and loneliness are linked to cognitive decline and higher rates of Alzheimer's disease.

None of the above strategies is complicated, but that doesn't make them easy, either. For many of us, lifestyle choices are deeply embedded in cultural or societal traditions. Attempting to change overnight is likely an ineffective strategy. So, to start, aim to do a little better today than you did yesterday. Try that strategy every day for a month and see where you land. I bet you'll be shocked to learn it's in a healthier and happier place. Keep going. Maintaining your brain for a lifetime is worth the effort, and after a while, those health strategies will become second nature, and you won't even have to "think" about doing them anymore. You can thank your brain for that gift too.