No matter how old we are or where we are in our lives, there are unique stressors that come along with each developmental stage. At Iris, we believe that by being aware of these stressors, we can better prepare our mental health to thrive throughout every phase of our lives.
The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada recently came out with an alarming new report: 1 million Canadians are expected to have dementia by the year 2030.
Dementia is one of the most common issues affecting older adults. Dementia isn’t a specific disease; it’s a general term that’s used to describe any problem with memory (or other brain functions) that is severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is one well-known type of dementia.
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. Often, this can’t be prevented because we may not know exactly what has led to someone’s dementia. There are also some risk factors for dementia, including age, race, and genetics, that can’t be controlled.
But researchers say that there are some healthy habits we can adopt that could reduce our chances of developing dementia. Here are some evidence-based tips.
Tips for preventing dementia:
- Work on lowering your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a known risk factor for both stroke and dementia. There are medications that can help you control your blood pressure; talk to your doctor and take them if necessary.
- There’s also a link between blood sugar and dementia. By managing your blood sugar, you can reduce your risk for diabetes and cognitive impairment (including dementia). Monitor your blood sugar and make healthy food choices.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is linked to many risk factors for dementia including high blood pressure and diabetes. Your doctor or a nutritionist can help you make a sustainable diet and exercise plan.
- Stop smoking. Smoking can increase your risk for stroke, which can lead to dementia. Smoking cessation programs or nicotine replacement therapy can help.
- Get enough physical exercise. It doesn’t matter how you move -- what matters is that you’re moving. Not only can exercise help you manage your blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight, but it can also help lower symptoms of depression. Depression is a risk factor for dementia.
- Eat a healthy diet. The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet has been studied for its benefits for brain health. This diet encourages you to eat more vegetables (especially your greens), berries, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, and fish.
- Be socially active. Connect with old friends. Find opportunities to volunteer. Join a local hobby group. Staying socially connected becomes especially important as we age.
- Challenge your mind. You don’t need to be in school to continue learning. Find opportunities to learn new skills and practice them. For example, take up an online language course or play brain games and puzzles.
- Keep your stress levels down. Living under chronically high stress can increase your risk for depression, high blood pressure, stroke, and more. These are all known risk factors for dementia. Healthy stress management is an important life skill that you can start practicing even as a young adult.
Why is this important?
- Nearly 1 million Canadians are expected to have dementia by 2030, which is over a 65% increase from 2020. This number is expected to jump to 1.7 million by 2050.
- Around 350 people are newly diagnosed with dementia in Canada every day.
- Around 1 and a half billion caregiving hours a year would be needed to take care of every Canadian with dementia. Many of these caretaking hours are unpaid and provided by family members.
- If everyone can delay getting dementia by just one year, then there will be half a million fewer dementia cases in 2050. There are evidence-based ways to prevent, or at least delay, the onset of dementia.
- Dementia can significantly decrease the quality-of-life for older adults.
Alzheimer Society of Canada. Brain-healthy tips to reduce your risk of dementia. https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/how-can-i-prevent-dementia/brain-healthy-tips-reduce-your-risk-dementia
Alzheimers.gov (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, et. al). Can I prevent dementia? https://www.alzheimers.gov/life-with-dementia/can-i-prevent-dementia
Dhana, K., et. al (2020). Healthy lifestyle and the risk of Alzheimer dementia. Neurology. https://n.neurology.org/content/95/4/e374.abstract
Leung, W. (2022). Nearly one million Canadians projected to have dementia by 2030, new report says. The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-canada-alzheimer-2030-projection/
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, et. al (2017). Preventing cognitive decline and dementia: A way forward. https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/24782/preventing-cognitive-decline-and-dementia-a-way-forward
National Health Service (NHS). Can dementia be prevented? https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/dementia-prevention/
Stanford Healthcare. Preventing dementia. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/brain-and-nerves/dementia/prevention.html