Search our Blog

Search our Blog

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Best Dementia Prevention Is Not Drugs

To significantly reduce your risk of getting dementia, the simplest remedies involve exercising and taking care of your body. 

Having a family history of Alzheimer’s or other dementia can be anxiety-provoking at best. But researchers have found how to reduce your risk of getting the disease, even if your parents had dementia. This protective remedy isn’t found in a pill, it doesn’t have to cost a single penny, and nearly anyone can manage it. The key is exercise.

A trio of large, long-term studies have emerged that look at how much activity and what kind is best to confer protection. The combined research looked at hundreds of thousands of participants over years, sometimes decades, to reach their conclusions. 

Improved Eyesight, Hearing Yield Results  

Another recently published study found links to dementia in participants with poor eyesight and hearing. In this look at almost 3,000 adults aged 65 and up, dual sensory impairment was linked with a 160% increase in dementia risk and a 267% greater risk of Alzheimer’s. The study concluded that “evaluation of hearing and vision in older adults may help to identify those at high risk of developing dementia.” 

Worldwide, researchers estimate that 1.8% of all dementia cases could be prevented by healthy vision alone, according to Dr. Gill Livingston, a psychiatrist at University College London and chair of the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care. The group is concentrating on behaviors and interventions that alleviate conditions — untreated high blood pressure, hearing loss, lower education levels, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, smoking, and low levels of social contact— known to increase the risk of dementia. Three more were added in 2020: excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injuries, and air pollution.

“Globally, 80 to 90 percent of vision impairment and blindness is avoidable through early detection and treatment, or has yet to be addressed,” says Joshua Ehrlich, an ophthalmologist and population health researcher at the University of Michigan. Why the link to dementia? Neural systems depend on stimulation from sensory organs to retain function. 

Vigorous exercise gave the most protection, but even doing household chores offered a meaningful reduction in the risk of getting the disease — even if there was a family history of dementia. 

Huge Study Tracks Exercise

The first study tracked more than half a million participants who did not have dementia, asking if they had genetic variants that have been found to be associated with dementia, or if they had immediate family members with the condition. 

This study looked at whether there were links between physical activity and the risk of getting dementia. Previous studies had failed to define physical activity well, so researchers wanted to know if participants regularly climbed stairs, walked, biked to work, played sports or worked out on weight machines, and on and on. 

Participants were tracked for 11 years, after which 5,185 showed signs of dementia. Participants who regularly engaged in “vigorous” physical activity fared the best, reducing their risk of getting dementia by a whopping 35%. But even those who only engaged in housework had a 21% lowered risk.

Creating and continuing a habit of daily or near-daily exercise “is likely to have a very profound synergistic effect,” says Dr. Joel Salinas, an assistant professor of neurology at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, who specializes in treating people with dementia. “You get a lot more bang for your buck in terms of helping to promote your own health through physical activity.”

Study Survey Urges Any Exercise

The second study reviewed the results of 38 research projects involving over two million people. Scientists found that after controlling for factors such as age, education and gender, participants who engaged in any form of exercise lowered their chance of getting dementia by 17% vs. those who did not. Walking, running, swimming, dancing and more all helped to fight off dementia. 

Adults Benefit from Childhood Exercise

Finally, a third study involving 1,200 children aged 7 to 15 for more than three decades suggested that adults who had higher levels of fitness as children functioned at a higher cognitive level in midlife. 

“Your brain is part of your body and is going to benefit from anything you do that is good for your general health,” says Dr. Sandra Weintraub, a neurologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. 

Aim for 150 minutes or more of moderate or high-intensity exercise per week, says Dr. Salinas. It’s “likely to have a very profound synergistic effect,” he says. “You get a lot more bang for your buck in terms of helping to promote your own health through physical activity.”