As we age, the risk for dementia and cognitive decline increases. In fact, increasing age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. So, what can you do to decrease your risk for cognitive decline other than to decide you are just done aging?
Two major reports were released in 2017, one from the British medical journal, The Lancet, and the other from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality in the U.S., that reviewed the available literature for other risk factors for dementia that we can do something about.
What they found was that there were modifiable risk factors, meaning risk factors that you can affect, unlike aging which can decrease your risk for dementia. These studies also concluded that intensive risk factor modification, especially during the midlife period of 45 to 65 years old, may delay or prevent dementia and cognitive decline. These activities fall into 3 major categories:
cognitive leisure activities
To understand why these modifications work I think it is important to understand why cognitive decline and dementia occurs. There are three main theories: The Cognitive Reserve Hypothesis, The Vascular Hypothesis and The Stress Hypothesis. The Cognitive Reserve Hypothesis has the most support so we will focus on that. The theory is that mental activity, learning and social interaction increase what we call brain plasticity. This is the ability of the central nervous system to change its structure based on external stimuli. So when these activities are taking place it is postulated that you are creating new nerves and new synapses, which are nerve connections. This results in healthier brain functioning. In this theory, physical activity is felt to increase vascular flow to the brain along with supporting non-neuronal brain components that support neurons. This theory is supported by the finding that higher levels of education are protective against dementia.
So let’s return to the three activities that may delay or prevent dementia.
Author: Dr. Jennefer Sutton, Family Wellness Center Physician, Health by Design
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