It used to be that dementia was viewed as an inevitable part of aging and its diagnosis left no room for reversal or cognitive improvement. However, new research and advancements show this is not true. It is estimated that one-third of dementia cases may be avoided by addressing lifestyle factors that affect a person’s risk. The Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability study showed that a program of lifestyle interventions consisting of diet, exercise, engagement, and management of vascular risk factors, can reduce cognitive decline and prolong a person’s independence.
NESSE Can help!
While dementia has no cure, there are things a person can do today to help reduce their risk, delay its onset, and slow the pace of cognitive decline.
Clinical studies have shown that a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, such as the Mediterranean diet, help protect the brain from cognitive decline.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil, limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month, eating fish and poultry at least twice a week, and using herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt.
Regular physical activity promotes increased brain volume and plasticity, two primary keys to staving off cognitive decline.
A regular schedule of aerobic and anaerobic exercises can benefit a person’s cognitive function and overall health. Research shows that regular physical activity improves brain function and lowers a person’s risk for cognitive impairment.
Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days a week, for a total of 150 minutes; or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days week, for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination.
Individuals with hypertension or who are overweight/obese should aim for 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week.
While aerobic activity is most beneficial for brain health, light to moderate anaerobic training — or strength training — is also recommended 2 to 3 times a week.
Stress should be addressed because it will accelerate cognitive decline. Trying to avoid isolation, depression, anxiety and engaging in stress management tools like meditation breathing exercises and staying social should help.
Physical exercise and a good diet are also good for relieving feelings of anxiety and depression.
Getting regular, high-quality sleep is critical to brain health and optimal well-being. Restorative sleep enables the brain to repair and grow cells, regulate hormones, balance the immune system, protect nerves and tissues and clear toxins. When coupled with a healthy diet and regular physical activity, consistently healthy sleep habits are a cornerstone of a healthy brain.
Adults are still capable of slowing the normal cognitive aging process by learning something new. Learning a new skill at any age affects the brain in many positive ways; it creates new connections in the brain by forming new alternate pathways. More connections mean larger brain volume and a greater cognitive reserve. Increasing cognitive reserve allows the brain to compensate for the natural tissue loss associated with aging.
The brain can only create new neural pathways and connections if it is challenged to do so. As such, repeating an activity or partaking in a hobby that does not challenge a person intellectually does not stimulate new growth. Step out of their comfort zone and try something like painting, photography, making pottery, new crafts or new games. No matter what it is, simply learning a new skill can help a person in maintaining healthy brain function.