By Dr. Loreen Dawson, BSc, ND
Many people think that dementia is a normal consequence of getting older, but this is simply not true. While your risk of developing dementia does increase as you get older, it is not your destiny. It is the result of your genetics, your history and the choices you make every day.
Genetics does seem to play a role in your risk of developing dementia. If you have a parent or a sibling with dementia, your risk goes up. If your parent had early onset dementia, that is symptoms before age 65, your risk goes up even more. If you have specific genetic markers linked to dementia, such as ApoE4, your risk goes up again.
Your history influences your risk of developing dementia. Specific health conditions such as celiac disease, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, MS or HIV increase your risk. Certain classes of drugs can increase your risk. The list of these is long and best reviewed with your pharmacist. A history of significant head injury or depression can also be factors. A poor education and learning disabilities add to your risk. However, even if your history and your genetics are not ideal, it is your lifestyle choices over months, years, and decades which matter the most.
Eating a healthy diet, doing daily exercise, getting restful sleep, practicing stress management skills, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding excess use of alcohol will reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and dementia. It is hard to ignore the importance of these lifestyle choices if a long and healthy life is one of your goals.
How do you know if your current routines are good enough? Your body gives clues, which can be measured and followed. There are subjective measures, like how you feel overall, your energy, your mood, your appetite and digestion; and there are objective measures like your blood pressure, blood sugar, insulin, weight, and CRP, a measure of inflammation, which can be checked and followed regularly.
Research is revealing that feelings of social isolation and loneliness and a lack of mental stimulation can also increase your risk of dementia. A commitment to lifelong learning, participating in your community, joining clubs, taking classes and cultivating healthy relationships are some of the ways you can reduce your risk.
There are currently almost 750,000 Canadians, or 1 in 8 Canadian seniors living with dementia. Are you destined to be one of them? Tip the balance in your favour. Learn your risk factors, and change what you can. Reduce your risk of dementia by making healthy choices every day.
Next Week: Diet, Exercise and Brain Exercise – specific strategies for a healthy brain