The incidence of diseases that affect the mind is climbing. More and more people are suffering dementia, Alzheimer’s and other conditions that cause cognitive decline as they age. More than 342,000 Australians are living with dementia—a number expected to increase to 400,000 in less than a decade. I think it’s now the sixth leading cause of death in the world now. I admit it, it is one of my fears – losing my mind. Every time I lose something or forget a word I wonder if it’s the start of dementia. Scientists can’t say what exactly causes these diseases or who is most likely to develop them.
Many brilliant people have developed these conditions – Ronald Reagan, Hazel Hawke, Charlton Heston. They are certainly not conditions that affect only the ‘weak’ minded. But some factors do leave you more vulnerable to developing dementia. In a nutshell they are:
Smokers are more likely to develop dementia than non-smokers. A Finnish study found smokers aged between 50 to 60 years old who smoked two cigarette packs a day were twice as likely to develop dementia. Elderly smokers are especially at risk. Those who used to smoke did not appear to have an increased risk for dementia.
A family history of dementia
You are more at risk if you have a close relative like a parent or sibling with the condition. This risk goes up if you have more than one close family member with dementia. But having family members with dementia does not guarantee you will get it. It only means you are more at risk than someone with no family history. You can get genetically tested to find out your risk. A gene called ApoE4 is associated with dementia. People who carry this gene are two to four times more likely to develop dementia. Those who have two copies of the gene are ten times more likely to get dementia.
This is one you can’t control, but ageing increases your risk of developing several different types of dementia. After Alzheimer’s, the next most common type of dementia is vascular dementia when the brain does not get enough blood flow. Lewy body disease is another type of dementia. It is caused by the degeneration and death of nerve cells in the brain. Suffers share many symptoms with people who have Alzheimer’s. There is no known cause of Lewy body disease, and no known risk factors have been identified. There is no evidence that it is an inherited disease. Anyone can develop it.
Studies have found that drinking a lot of alcohol appears to increase your risk of dementia, but other studies have shown that people who drink moderately have a lower risk of dementia. The jury is out on this one.
A high cholesterol diet
Atherosclerosis is the build-up of deposits of fatty substances and cholesterol in the inner lining of an artery. It is a risk factor for vascular dementia, because it impedes good blood flow into the brain and can lead to stroke. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called ‘bad’ form of cholesterol, appear to significantly increase a person’s risk of developing vascular dementia. Some research has also linked high cholesterol to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Diabetes is a risk factor for both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. It is also linked to stroke.
Being overweight or obese
People who have a high body mass index (BMI) are more likely to develop dementia than those with a normal weight, according to a study from University College London. The study, published in the Alzheimer's & Dementia journal, analysed data from 1.3 million adults living in the United States and Europe. The message is keep your weight within a healthy range to decrease your risk.
Get lots of sleep
Sleep is important for brain health. Have a regular sleep schedule and aim for seven to eight hours a night. Only one of three people get enough sleep. Sleep ‘detoxes’ the brain and the body, clearing out neural waste products that build up inside the central nervous system every day. Without it, the brain does not have ample time to flush them away. One brain waste product is beta-amyloid, the protein that serves as the primary cause of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. To prevent dementia, Dr Brennan said that it is important to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
Be excited daily
If you are forgetful, lose your sense of humour or have unhealthy eating habits, then it could be a sign of stress, which increases your dementia risk. Dr Brennan says that one way to manage stress is to be excited every day, especially at the small pleasures from life.
Loneliness is linked to dementia and other brain diseases through disturbed sleep patterns, abnormal stress responses, unhealthy blood pressure levels and greater cognitive decline. Make sure you spend AT LEAST 10 minutes everyday having fun with other people. Other activities good for the mind are reading, drawing or even writing.
Smiling as a solution to dementia may seem odd, but science proves just that. Aside from scientifically triggering happiness, smiling itself releases happiness-causing chemicals. These chemicals are serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, which all activate your brain’s reward circuits, and, in turn, increase the feeling of happiness, giving your overall brain health a positive boost. The serotonin that your smile releases doubles as a natural anti-depressant, while the endorphins act as natural pain relievers.
Lifting weights can help protect the brain from degeneration, and its benefits last for many months after training, according to new Australian research. A Sydney University study found that the areas of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease are protected for one year after training. The research, published in NeuroImage Clinical found that six months of strength training led to cognitive improvements in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and significantly slowed neurodegeneration linked with Alzheimer’s disease.
The Proven System To Unlimited Wealth and Prosperity
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.