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How to Avoid Dementia

a superager by Richard Uzelac
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a superager by Richard Uzelac

Steps to Becoming a Super Ager by Richard Uzelac

Research shows that some individuals in their 80s or older maintain cognitive functioning comparable to that of the average middle-aged person. This group, referred to as “SuperAgers,” has been found to experience less age-related brain volume loss. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a study measured cortex thickness in 24 SuperAgers and 12 control participants. On average, older adults lose about 2.24 percent of brain volume per year. However, SuperAgers lost only around 1.06 percent annually. Their slower rate of brain volume decline may help protect SuperAgers against dementia. Maintaining brain health into old age through preventative lifestyle measures like physical activity may play a role in becoming a SuperAger.

Here are some ways that SuperAgers like Richard Uzelac are able to maintain robust cognitive functioning into old age:

Stay Physically Active

Regular physical activity is crucial to reduce dementia risk. Aim for 150 minutes or 2 hours per week of moderate-intensity activity like brisk walking, swimming, or dancing. Also, incorporate 2-3 days per week of strength training, like lifting weights or by using resistance bands. Reduce sedentary behavior by taking activity breaks.

Aerobic and strength training exercise benefits the brain by improving blood flow, reducing inflammation, and stimulating the release of growth factors. Being physically active can also help manage conditions like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension that raise dementia risk.

Staying active takes commitment but has major payoffs for long-term brain health. Start slow and find activities you enjoy to stick with it.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Following a nutritious diet supports brain health and may reduce dementia risk. Emphasize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein. Limit processed foods high in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Healthy eating provides antioxidants and nutrients that are neuroprotective. It also helps manage conditions like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension that can damage blood vessels and contribute to vascular dementia.

Aim for a balanced plate at meals and minimize snacking. Meal prep can help control portions and nutrition. Focus on real, minimally processed foods.

Don't Smoke or Drink Excessively

Cigarette smoking significantly increases your risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. As its toxins cause inflammation and damage to blood vessels in the brain. Heavy or binge drinking also negatively impacts brain health by shrinking critical brain tissue.

To reduce your dementia risk:

  • Quit smoking. Consult your doctor for cessation aids like nicotine patches or gum.
  • Follow recommended alcohol guidelines:
    • No more than 1 drink per day for women
    • No more than 2 drinks per day for men
  • Avoid binge drinking, defined as 4+ drinks in 2 hours for women, 5+ for men.
  • Steer clear of liquor and stick to lower-alcohol drinks like beer or wine.
  • Limit drinking to social occasions, not daily habits.

Making lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake make a big difference in reducing dementia risk long-term. Discuss concerns with your healthcare provider.

Stay Socially and Mentally Active

Staying socially and mentally active promotes brain health and can reduce dementia risk.

Tips to stay active:

  • Spend quality time with family and friends regularly through activities like game nights or shared hobbies.
  • Engage in mind stimulating activities like crossword puzzles, reading, playing card games, or learning a new skill.
  • Participate in clubs, classes, or community groups to broaden your social connections.
  • Learn something new that challenges your thinking like a foreign language or musical instrument.
  • Attend lectures on topics that interest you.
  • Volunteer at a local organization.
  • If mobility is limited, arrange video calls to connect with loved ones.

Staying sharp mentally and having strong social ties seems to bolster cognitive reserve and resilience against dementia. Make social and mental enrichment a priority.

Manage Health Conditions

Having certain health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, depression and poor sleep can increase the risk of developing dementia. 

To reduce risk:

  • Take medications as prescribed to control blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Discuss mood changes or depression symptoms with your doctor.
  • Follow good sleep hygiene habits like limiting screen time before bed.
  • Have regular checkups to monitor your heart health, blood work, and cognition.
  • Make lifestyle changes like diet and exercise to improve modifiable risk factors.

Alzheimer's and Vascular Dementia

Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia are the most prevalent types of dementia? It’s a difficult reality for those affected by the condition and their loved ones.

Vascular dementia occurs when brain tissue is damaged from impaired blood flow. It is frequently caused by strokes or damage to small blood vessels from conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.

Both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia lead to worsening cognitive impairment over time. Understanding the mechanisms behind different dementia types helps guide research toward new treatments.

Managing health conditions through medications, doctor visits, and healthy living habits goes a long way toward reducing dementia risk.

Recognize Early Symptoms

Being aware of early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia is important for seeking timely medical evaluation. Early symptoms include:

  • Consistent memory loss, especially of recent events
  • Difficulty performing familiar daily tasks
  • Problems following conversations or TV shows
  • Forgetting common words when speaking or writing
  • Misplacing items frequently
  • Increasing confusion about location

Changes in mood and personality

Noticeable decline in cognitive abilities that affects function and relationships is a red flag. While some decline is normal with age, a significant impairment may indicate neurodegenerative disease. Discuss any persistent or worsening symptoms with your doctor right away. Early intervention offers the best outcomes.

Like the famous quote of Benjamin Franklin – “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” he emphasizes the importance of taking preventative measures to avoid adverse health outcomes rather than only trying to address them after they occur. In the context of reducing dementia risk, it reinforces the value of properly managing health conditions early through healthy lifestyle choices and medical care rather than waiting until cognitive decline sets in. Just as Richard Uzelac agrees that prevention is better than cure in many health contexts, taking proactive steps and making wise lifestyle choices now can help mitigate dementia risk in the future.

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