Dementia is one of the most debilitating brain disorders that can erase precious memories and can ultimately rob you of the freedom to do everyday tasks independently. It encompasses a wide range of disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Dementia is caused when nerve cells are damaged and their connections in the brain are disrupted. Symptoms may depend on which part of the brain is affected. While it can be caused temporarily by a deficiency of certain vitamins, many forms of dementia are irreversible and progressive. Lifestyle factors can greatly affect your chances of developing dementia. Certain lifestyle habits, such as being sedentary, not socializing enough, eating processed foods, smoking and drinking alcohol can increase the risk of developing a brain disorder. (Also read: 5 ways owning a dog can keep dementia at bay)
“Dementia, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, is a major public health challenge worldwide. As research has shed light on the complex interplay between genetic predispositions and modifiable lifestyle factors that influence dementia risk. While dementia cannot be fully prevented , certain lifestyle habits have emerged as potential contributors to its onset,” says Dr Chirag Gupta – Consultant Neurology, Yatharth Hospital Greater Noida.
Inactive lifestyle, big culprit
“Leading an inactive lifestyle is a significant risk factor for developing some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, later in life. Lack of regular physical exercise leads to problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity – all of which adversely affect overall brain health over time,” says Dr PN Renjen, Senior Consultant, Neurology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.
In case you’re wondering how you can make your life more active than it is today, research shows that doing at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, such as brisk walking or swimming, can drastically reduce a person’s chances for cognitive decline.
Insufficient sleep can affect brain health
“In addition to exercise, sleep habits also play an important role. There is strong evidence linking both insufficient sleep (less than 5-6 hours a night) and poor sleep quality to accelerated cognitive decline and higher risks of dementia up to 30% older adults,” says Dr. Renjen.
“Lifestyle habits that increase the risk of dementia include not getting enough sleep which is sleeping for a limited number of hours or going to bed late. Another factor is lack of regular aerobic exercise. The recommendation is 20 minutes of any aerobic exercise for 20 minutes a day for 5 days a week. Binge drinking which is more than two drinks for men and more than one drink for women is also another dementia risk habit. Other factors include female smoking, uncontrolled hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes, obesity, air pollution and head injury,” says Dr Annu Aggarwal, Consultant Neurologist, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology Specialist, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital Mumbai.
LIFESTYLE FACTORS THAT CAN INCREASE THE RISK OF DEMENTIA
Dr Aditya Gupta, Director – CyberKnife, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram lists lifestyle factors that have been found to be possible causes of dementia.
1. Genetics: The risk of dementia can be influenced by genetic and family factors. A higher risk may apply to those with a family history of dementia, particularly if the dementia has an early onset.
2. Physical inactivity: Not getting enough exercise on a regular basis increases the risk of dementia and other diseases. Exercise is thought to improve brain health by increasing blood flow and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
3. Nutrition: Increased risk of dementia may be due to unhealthy dietary patterns, such as diets high in cholesterol, saturated and trans fats, and refined sweets. It is generally accepted that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids is better for the brain.
“A diet high in saturated fat, refined sugars and low in essential nutrients has been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Eating a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids can support brain health. says Dr. Gupta.
4. Excessive consumption of alcohol: Alcohol-related dementia can be caused by heavy and prolonged alcohol consumption. However, moderate alcohol use may protect cognitive function in some ways.
5. Sleep disorders: Prolonged sleep disorders that cause cognitive decline, such as sleep apnea or insomnia, may be a contributing factor. It is imperative that one gets enough sleep for optimal brain function.
6. Smoking: There is a link between smoking and a higher risk of dementia. Tobacco contains toxic compounds that can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of disorders that worsen cognitive decline.
7. Inactive Social Life: Higher risk of dementia may be linked to lack of mental and social stimulation. Maintaining cognitive function can be helped by maintaining an active social life and participating in mentally stimulating activities.
“Loneliness and social isolation have been associated with an increased risk of dementia. Maintaining social connections and engaging in social activities may contribute to cognitive well-being,” added Dr. Gupta.