Dementia: What You Can Do To Reduce Your Risk

older man on park bench

Memory slips can be frustrating, aggravating, and sometimes worrisome. Once or twice is simply the cost of a hectic life. A few more slips and we joke about having a “senior moment.” When forgetting becomes problematic, we jump straight into self-diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s important not to jump to conclusions, says internist Megan Oberhauser, DO. What do we actually know? What can we do? 

In truth, medical professionals still know so little in regards to the brain compared to other diseases, she says. The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. Our every memory, thought, action, and feeling is produced by our brain. Thankfully, neurologists continue to do their research. There are many links seen between certain diseases and life choices that are proven or suspected connections to cognitive decline.

Dementia is a decline in cognition that can vary from person to person. One person may have trouble learning something new, while another has trouble with only old information. Some may have trouble with motor function and another may have difficulty making decisions. Memory difficulty can be can be temporary or permanent. Fortunately, we know some of the risk factors that increase our chances of mental decline.

Here is advice from Dr. Oberhauser on risk factors for dementia and steps you can take to avoid it.

Risk Factors for Dementia

Age: Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do to prevent this. Are older brains more susceptible to deterioration, or is it just that people are living longer? If we are speculating, maybe it might be some of both?

Family history: Once again, we can’t change this risk factor, but knowing we are at risk is helpful.

Gender: Women seem to be at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease, while men seem to be at greater risk for vascular dementia.

Steps You Can Take to Avoid Dementia

There are things you can control to help lessen your chances of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Smoking: You knew it would be on this list, right? We all know that smoking carries serious health risks. Asthma, cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are just a few of the nasties linked to smoking. Studies have shown that people who smoke are at higher risk of developing all types of dementia and a much higher risk -- up to 79 percent -- for Alzheimer's disease.

While scientists aren't sure which of the 4,700 chemical toxins in cigarette smoke are responsible for the increased risk, they do understand some of the ways tobacco products damage our brains. Smoking can cause cerebrovascular (brain blood vessel) disease and, therefore, increase the risk of cognitive impairment caused by mini-strokes and hardening of the arteries.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is known to put stress on nearly every system in the body, often leading to disease. How so? Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause problems by damaging and narrowing the blood vessels in your brain. Anything that weakens or blocks our blood vessels (for example, diabetes, high cholesterol) can cause brain problems.

Poorly Controlled Diabetes: What do diabetes and dementia have in common? Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to make enough insulin or use the insulin it makes properly. Studies have shown that diabetes can be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and other types of dementia because diabetes damages blood vessels. Any condition that damages blood vessels also damages blood vessels in our brains.

Sedentary lifestyle: Being more active increases blood flow to your brain, helps with weight control, blood pressure control, blood sugar control, and if you get up and get moving with someone else, it counters the final risk factor…

Lack of social contact: A recent large study confirms the heavy toll that loneliness can take on your health; it increases your risk of dementia by 40 percent. The risk is across the board, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or education.

Megan Oberhauser, DO, specializes in internal medicine and is accepting new patients at UH Samaritan Primary Care and UH Kettering Health Center.

Related links

A primary care physician can help you reduce your risk for dementia. Need to find a primary care physician? UH allows you to schedule an appointment online for select UH physicians and specialties, including primary care. Or use our online tool to find a doctor, which you can use to search by location.

If you need help quitting smoking, call UH Samaritan respiratory therapist Libby Edwards at 419-207-2303

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