By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Alzheimer’s and dementia affect the families of many of our clients.  In the later stages, these debilitating diseases often lead to complete physical dependency and lack of awareness of surroundings. The dependency caused by the disease requires families to step in and take over for their ailing loved one.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are on the rise in the U.S. The Alzheimer’s organization reports there are currently 5.7 million people suffering from these illnesses. They estimate that by 2050, more than 14 million people will suffer from these diseases.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and it is hitting more people earlier and earlier in their lives and causing more and more families to devote their time and resources to caring for people suffering.

Luckily, studies are helping doctors understand behaviors that increase the risk of dementia.  With this knowledge, we can make choices in our own lives that will reduce our risk of developing the disease later in life.

(1) Control Blood Pressure

The World Alzheimer Report from 2014 discussed several studies that found people with high blood pressure had an increased risk of dementia. People with high blood pressure are also at an increased risk for stroke. Strokes cause the death of brain cells, which can also lead to Alzheimer’s.

How does this happen?  High blood pressure strains your arteries.  This makes the arteries’ walls stiffer and the passage for blood to flow through narrower. The stiffer, narrower walls restrict the amount of oxygen and essential nutrients that flow to your brain and damages your brain cells.

You may not notice if you have high blood pressure because it will not necessarily affect your day-to-day life.  Get your blood pressure checked every 5 years to make sure you are still on the right track.

Indicators for high blood pressure include being overweight, diets high in salt, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking.

(2) Kick Those Butts

Smoking increases problems with your heart and blood vessels, which are linked to Alzheimer’s. Also, the toxins in cigarette smoke cause inflammation and oxidative stress, additional factors in Alzheimer’s.  According to the Alzheimer’s Society, smokers are 30 – 50% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than non-smokers.

Luckily, when smokers kick the habit, the increased risk factors are gone.

(3) Cut the Sugar

Columbia University studied the affects of sugar on dementia.  They found that people who used more than 2 1/2 teaspoons per day in their foods or drinks were 54% more likely to get dementia than those who didn’t.

For those who enjoyed more than half a can of soda each day, there was a 47% increase in the risk of developing dementia.

The study concluded that adding more than 30 grams (the equivalent of one can of soda) of sugar to your diet daily increases your risk of dementia by 33%.

When you increase your blood sugar, you are also increasing your risk for diabetes. Changes in glucose metabolism affect both diabetes and Alzheimer’s and can cause changes to your brain. Any excess sugar, whether from soda or fruit juice, can have the same affect.

(4) Protect Your Head

When people get hit in the head constantly, it can cause mini strokes, and strokes increase your risk of dementia. Repeated hits to the head can cause the central nervous system to become inflamed and lead to tau buildup- a protein that can cause memory loss, aggressive behavior, confusion, depression, and dementia.

Keep your head protected if you do contact sports.  If you do get a severe hit to the head, seek medical attention.  Follow your doctor’s advice about when to return to the sport.

(5) Exercise

A Cardiff University study found that exercising greatly reduces the risk of dementia. The study found that participants who developed 4 out of 5 healthy behaviors- exercising regularly, quitting smoking, keeping a healthy weight, and drinking little alcohol- reduced their risk of developing dementia by 60%.

As a bonus, adopting the healthier lifestyle reduced the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke by 70% over those who did not have any of the studied healthy behaviors.

Exercise caused a greater reduction of health risks than any other single factor. When reviewing clinical trials, the Alzheimer’s Society found one month of regular exercise- just 20 – 30 minutes, several times per week- improved processing speed, attention, and memory in participants.

(6) Exercise Your Brain

Keeping you brain active regularly increases your brain health.  Studies found bi-lingual people developed dementia more than 4 years later than people who only knew one language. In addition, playing an instrument lowers your risk of dementia by 36%.

If language or music aren’t your forte, doctors suggest counting backward from 100 in 2s,3s, or 4s, while doing something else, such as tapping your hand on your thigh. You can also exercise your brain with problems at work or crossword puzzles.