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Discussing Dementia

Reducing the Risk of Developing Dementia

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a disease of concern for any adult over 50 years. Consumer Reports in their June 2022 magazine offered advice on how to reduce the chances of developing dementia. People often assume that when we talk about dementia that we are talking about Alzheimer’s dementia. This of course is not always the case. Though Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia in adults over 50 years accounting for at least 60% people with dementia over 50, there are other causes of dementia. As the article points out, small vessel disease caused by poorly controlled hypertension or diabetes, can accumulate over the years to the point that enough brain tissue is damaged to cause dementia.

Reduce Intake of Harmful Medications

The article is helpful in pointing out things people can do to reduce the chances of memory impairment or dementia from small vessel disease such as having medications reviewed and eliminate those that impair thinking like narcotics, sedating antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, anticholinergics or sedatives. These medications can affect memory in the short term but would not impair memory once they have been eliminated from the body. Many of these recommendations reduce the possibility or extent of small vessel disease; however, they may not reduce the likelihood of someone developing Alzheimer’s disease or other common causes of dementia such as Lewy body disease, Frontotemporal dementia, and Parkinson’s dementia.

Address Mental Health Concerns

The article also points out that depression and anxiety are linked to shrinkage of the brain and encourage treatment for anxiety and depression. The latter is good advice as there is a relationship between cognitive impairment and depression and anxiety, but it leaves questions about the relationship with the brain. In other words, it is unclear if people with shrinkage of the brain develop depression secondary to it, or does the depression and anxiety cause the brain reduction. If it is the latter, does successful treatment of these conditions increase brain size?

Increase Beverage Consumption

There were also interesting snippets about food and beverage consumption that could influence dementia. The article referenced a study that looked at tea and coffee consumption and correctly pointed out that drinking 3 or more cups of tea and coffee reduces the number of people who develop dementia over a 10-year period with the most reduction coming from people who drink 6 cups of tea or coffee per day. Unfortunately, the study did not control for caffeinated tea or coffee vs decaffeinate so it is unclear if caffeine consumption is critical to the reduction in dementia. Also unfortunately, the study noted there was no reduction in Alzheimer’s dementia. The reduction was in other causes of dementia like vascular dementia.

Maintain Healthy Diet and Active Lifestyle

The Consumer reports article does a nice job summarizing dietary advice with the recommendation of lean protein, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, fish and berries and reducing alcohol and fatty foods. They also reinforce advice on exercise (brisk walking for 30 minutes and if you can tolerate it, 45-60 minute 5 days per week) and getting adequate sleep. Following the advice on sleep, diet and exercise will reduce vascular dementia as well as other problems such as heart disease.

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