New research suggests some things we can do to protect our minds from memory loss.
A large UK-based study published this week in the Medical Journal of the American Academy of Neurology found that physical and mental activities – doing housework, exercising or visiting loved ones – can help reduce the risk of dementia.
The nearly 11-year study involved 501,376 people in Great Britain, who at the start of the experiment self-reported their physical and mental activities: how often they visit with friends, their level of education, how often they climb stairs, how they go to work, and more. .
The study found that some activities are associated with the risk of dementia. Those who exercised a lot were 35% less likely, those who did a lot of housework were 21% less likely, and those who visited with family and friends every day were 15% less likely.
And when dementia risk factors include things outside of our control — like aging and genetics — the research highlights that there are behaviors you can do to reduce your risk of dementia or delay the condition. Scott Turner, director of the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown University Medical Center, told HuffPost.
The study comes with a few caveats: The results are correlations, not necessarily direct relationships. Another limitation is that because people report their physical and mental activities, there are always cases where some people forget or misreport their activities.
“More research is needed to confirm our findings. However, our results confirm that these simple lifestyle changes can be beneficial,” said study author Dr. Huang Song from Sichuan University in China.
Overall, the findings are good news considering that more than 5 million people in the United States are living with dementia — and that number is expected to continue to grow.
It’s important to stimulate your brain.
Whether it’s through physical activity, social activity or mental activity, keeping your brain engaged can help delay the onset of dementia or reduce the risk altogether.
Housework doubles as physical and mental work (and can sometimes be considered exercise, Turner noted). Visiting with loved ones is a social activity that requires mental stimulation, and physical activity also requires mental dedication.
People with vision or hearing problems may be at higher risk of dementia if they don’t address the problem by getting glasses or hearing aids, Turner said. When you can’t hear or see, he explained, “You’re depriving your brain of sensory information, and you need to stimulate your brain to help reduce the risk of dementia.”
Physical activity has a two-fold benefit when it comes to dementia risk.
Another risk factor for dementia is diabetes, Turner noted, etcHere are some lifestyle habits you can follow to reduce your risk of diabetes. These include exercise, a healthy diet, and maintaining an ideal body weight throughout life.
Thus, exercise not only helps reduce the risk of dementia, but also helps reduce the risk of diabetes.
It is never too late to implement these changes.
Turner emphasized that regardless of your age, it’s never too late to follow some of these lifestyle suggestions. And it can be as simple as extra vacuuming around the house or taking a walk with your neighbor.
“I recommend doing lifestyle as much as possible [changes] prevention and prevention of dementia,” he said. “Of course, prevention is better than cure.”
For those with memory or cognitive impairment, lifestyle changes that involve physical, social or mental activity are still beneficial, Turner said. You can help slow the progression of dementia by stimulating your brain. This is why puzzles are a popular activity among people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Talk to your doctor if you develop any new memory problems.
“If someone develops memory problems, they should definitely seek an evaluation starting with their primary care provider,” Turner said.
He pointed out that some treatable conditions lead to memory problems, such as sleep apnea and vitamin B12 deficiency. However, any neurological changes should be evaluated to get the right treatment plan.