The best way to prevent dementia is to understand your risk and minimize dementia risk factors by making healthy lifestyle changes. Although some risk factors for dementia cannot be changed – like age and genetics – there are many things you can do to keep your brain young.
Ottawa and area - The Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County
Toronto – The Alzheimer Society of Toronto
Elsewhere in Canada – Alzheimer’s societies local to you can be found through the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada
United States - Alzheimer's Association
United Kingdom - UK Alzheimer's Society
Other - Other international Alzheimer's societies and associations can be found through Alzheimer’s Disease International
The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada - How can I prevent dementia?
Hakim, A. (2017) Save your mind: Seven rules to avoid dementia . Georgetown, ON: Georgetown Publications
There is strong evidence that smoking increases your risk of developing dementia.(1) Smoking causes blood vessels in the brain and heart to narrow, restricting the flow of oxygen and nutrients, leading to brain aging. Smoking is also a strong risk factor for other diseases—cerebrovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease—that independently increase your dementia risk.
The good news is that quitting smoking may reduce your risk of dementia to the level of someone who has never smoked.(1,2)
- The Smokers Helpline and STOP program are Canadian resources to help you quit smoking
- The Canadian government also maintains a list of local services to help you quit
Live a physically active lifestyle
Regular physical exercise may be one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of developing dementia. Compared to being sedentary, high to moderate levels of physical activity have been associated with reduced dementia risk.(3,4) Physical activity pumps blood to the brain, nourishing cells with oxygen and nutrients. Being physically active also reduces your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity and depression—conditions that increase the risk of developing dementia.
Make some type of physical activity part of your daily life. Find activities that you enjoy, like walking, swimming or biking, and consider group classes where you can also be social. Start slowly and set reasonable goals.
- The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity a week for healthy adults
- The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for adults 18-64 year of age and adults 65 years or older recommend limiting sedentary behaviour to 8 hours or less per day with no more than 3 hours of recreational screen time
- The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada advice on staying physically active
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
A healthy, balanced diet may reduce risk of dementia through decreased obesity and prevention of oxidative stress in the brain. The Mediterranean and MIND diets, which recommend eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fish, and limiting processed foods, meat, sweets and dairy, have both been associated with decreased risk of dementia.(11,12) Healthy dietary choices also reduce the risk of other dementia risk factors including heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes.
Eat plenty of colorful fruit and vegetables, limit highly processed foods, make water your drink of choice, and cook at home more often. Consider trying the Mediterranean or MIND diets or asking your doctor for a referral to a dietitian in your area.
- Canada's Food Guide
- Find a dietitian in your area (Canada only)
- Following a healthy diet from the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada
Heavy alcohol consumption
Drink less alcohol
Heavy alcohol consumption has been associated with increased risk of dementia in addition to other short- and long-term negative health outcomes.(15) Long-term heavy alcohol consumption can lead to brain damage.
Reduce long-term health risks by limiting your alcohol consumption to within recommended guidelines.
- Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommend no more than 10 drinks a week for women (with no more than 2 drinks a day most days) and no more than 15 drinks a week for men (with no more than 3 drinks a day most days)
- Alberta Health Services have released an Alcohol and Seniors resource which provides helpful information and recommendations for individuals 65 years of age and older who choose to consume alcohol
High blood pressure
Reduce high blood pressure
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, causes arteries of the body to harden and narrow, restricting the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Treatment of high blood pressure with blood pressure lowering drugs has been associated with reduced risk of dementia.(5) Controlling high blood pressure also reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke, two major dementia risk factors.
Know your blood pressure, eat well, become more physically active, and take medications as prescribed by your doctor.
- High blood pressure information from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
- High blood pressure and dementia information from the UK Alzheimer’s Society
Achieve a healthy weight
People who are underweight in mid-life may be at higher risk of developing dementia.(14) Weight loss at older ages is often associated with chronic conditions and health problems that are risk factors for dementia, however, being underweight may also indicate that your nutritional needs are not being met, which can be damaging to the brain.
Seek professional support if you experience unexplained weight loss or are unable to maintain a healthy weight. It may also be helpful to seek advice from a dietitian to ensure you are providing your body with the nutrition it needs.
- Find a dietitian in your area (Canada only)
- Canada’s Food Guide
Achieve a healthy weight
People who are obese in mid-life are at a higher risk of developing dementia(13) as well as other dementia risk factors including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Work on improving your overall health and well-being, not just on losing weight. Seek to eat balanced, nutritious meals and engage in physical activity to increase your overall health and fitness. Talk to your doctor before starting any weight-loss or physical activity program.
- Obesity resources and information on managing obesity from Obesity Canada
- Find a dietitian in your area (Canada only)
- Canada’s Food Guide
Existing chronic conditions
Manage health conditions
Many health conditions, especially those that affect the heart or blood vessels (like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), are associated with development of dementia.
See your doctor regularly and take care to manage existing health conditions. Monitor your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, weight), take medications as prescribed by your doctor, seek to understand your condition and take responsibility for your care. Successful management of most chronic conditions also involves lifestyle changes—losing weight, becoming more physically active, eating better—invest time and energy in to making these healthy changes as they will also reduce your risk of developing dementia.
- The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has recovery, support and self-management resources for heart disease and stroke
- Diabetes management tools and resources from Diabetes Canada
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease resources from the Canadian Lung Association
- Government of Canada programs and services for heart disease and stroke, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Take care of your mental health
Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are associated with increased risk of dementia.(6,7) This may occur due to increased inflammation in the brain leading to brain damage or through increased risk of other diseases that are also risk factors for dementia.
Seek professional help for depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Your health care provider will be able to assess if treatment is needed, which may include therapy or medication. Small lifestyle changes may also help—exercise regularly, eat well, and engage frequently with your friends, family and community.
- BounceBack is a free program from the Canadian Mental Health Association that helps build skills to improve your mental health
- Peer Support Canada provides emotional and practical peer support from trained individuals who have lived through similar experiences to you
- The Canadian Association for Mental Health provides free online tutorials to help you learn more about mental health
- The Canadian Suicide Prevention Service and Crisis Canada
High level of stress
Everyone experiences some stress in their daily lives, however, prolonged stress may play a role in the development of dementia as chronic exposure to stress hormones are damaging to brain cells.(9,10) Reducing the stress in your life and/or learning how to better manage stress may reduce your risk of developing dementia, as well as your risk of developing other risk factors for dementia like high blood pressure and depression.
Recognize the warning signs of stress, look for ways to reduce the amount of stress in your life, and learn healthy ways to manage stress and reduce its harmful effects. Stress management many include setting realistic goals and expectations, regular physical activity, meditation, or seeking professional support from your family doctor or a mental health specialist.
- Stress Strategies is an online stress education and management program developed by the Psychology Foundation of Canada
- Government of Canada – Coping with stress
- HealthLink BC - Stress management
Low sense of community belonging
Engage with your community
Evidence suggests that people who are less socially engaged or are lonely have poorer health and at an increased risk of developing dementia compared to those who are more engaged in their communities.(8)
Consider ways to become active in your community, like participating in local organizations, getting involved in a church group, or volunteering for a cause you are passionate about. Maintain strong social connections with your friends and family.
- Volunteer Canada provides information about volunteer opportunities across Canada
Other Dementia risk factors
Low cognitive reserve
Challenge your brain
Mentally stimulating activity throughout life strengthens the connections between brain cells, making the brain more resilient to damage later in life known as cognitive reserve. High cognitive reserve may reduce the risk of dementia.(16)
Be a life-long learner—learn a new language or instrument, or take up a new hobby like painting, woodworking or cooking. Play games like chess, puzzles, cards, crosswords, sudoku or video games. Maintain strong social connections with your friends and family.
Adopt healthy sleeping practices
Sleep disturbances including insomnia and sleep-disordered breathing have been associated with increased risk of dementia.(17)
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and eating too close to bedtime; exercise regularly, develop a sleep routine and only use your bedroom for sleeping. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your sleep.
- The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines recommend 7-9 hours of sleep for adults 18-64 year of age and 7-8 hours of sleep for adults 65 years or older, with consistent bed and wake-up times
- Sleep On It – sleep information from the Canadian Sleep Society and other Canadian sleep organizations
Protect your head
Severe or repeated head injury is associated with an increased risk of dementia.(18)
Always wear a seat belt, and wear a helmet if you are biking, skating, skiing or doing other risky activities.
Poor oral health
Take care of your teeth
Poor oral health may be associated with development of dementia through chronic inflammation, dietary changes and lack of dietary nutrients.(19)
Brush your teeth twice daily, floss and visit the dentist regularly.
- Oral health resources from the Government of Canada
Protect your hearing
Hearing loss has been associated with increased risk of dementia, although it is not clear how this may occur.(20)
Limit the amount of time you spend doing loud activities, wear hearing protection when you are around loud noises and talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your hearing.
- Information on hearing loss prevention from the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association
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