There is currently no cure for any of the many types of dementia out there. But, with a figure of 1.6 million people estimated to be living with dementia in the UK by 2050, we thought we would share an expert’s view on the lifestyle changes you can make today which could help protect you from the condition. We recently enjoyed watching an interview with neuroscientist Dr Julia Jones on ITV’s This Morning and here is our summary of what she had to say…
When we talk about dementia, what we are really talking about is the brain stopping working properly. The brain is an overly complex structure with around 80-100 billion neurons connected in more than 30,000 different ways – it really is the most complex thing we’ve found in the known universe so far. Therefore, when it goes wrong, it causes all kinds of diverse problems, resulting in all different types of dementia. The good news is, we know it starts incredibly early in mid-life and there are some easy things that we can do to help significantly reduce the risk.
When we say dementia starts early, in most cases it occurs at a cellular level. Cellular inflammation happens early on at a very microscopic level, but that damage accumulates over the years and, after decades, can emerge into physical symptoms down the line. High blood pressure or high cholesterol can be early signs, as these are precursors for dementia and other chronic diseases.
There are adjustments that we can make in terms of our daily habits that act as preventative measures. Some of them are obvious changes that we have heard about before like good nutrition, eating healthily, and eating at the right time of day, while other changes are less obvious. Here are some good habits to get into:
Healthy eating and fasting
If you look back at historic eating habits, we never used to eat as frequently as we do now. We’ve become a culture where food is much more accessible, so we’re eating often and digesting often and not extending the fasting period. We know that things like weight gain, blood glucose levels, and cholesterol levels are some of the risk factors for dementia, and we know that fasting can help control some of these factors, making it a good habit to introduce on some level.
Nutrition is a core pillar of everything, including dementia. We all know the score – more fruits and vegetables and less red meat – and we all know the saying ‘you are what you eat’. We’ve built a modern world that makes it ridiculously difficult to do the simplest things. It shouldn’t be difficult to eat more fruits and vegetables, but when you are placed in the supermarket environment – an environment designed to influence us by triggering our dopamine pathways – it’s difficult to say no. Especially when all the unhealthy foods are placed on shelves that are positioned at eye level, encouraging us to buy and making it very difficult to resist temptation.
Exercise plays multiple roles in helping to stave off dementia, including by improving circulation. After all, the brain needs a blood supply just like all the other cells in the body. Exercise doesn’t have to be about going to a gym every day. It can mean walking more often or taking the stairs instead of the lift. It’s easy if you own a dog because you have to go for walks, but if you aren’t a dog owner you will need to build that walk into your day somehow. The best results come from about changing your mentality, building more movement into your life, and being outdoors more.
Assess alcohol and smoking habits
Smoking is a definite no. All the studies clearly state that. So, it’s best to eliminate smoking altogether.
It will be intriguing to see where the vaping journey leads us because we are still quite early on. Like the smoking generation, we won’t know how harmful vaping is (or isn’t) until much further down the line. However, alcohol (in moderation) is ok. When we look at the people that are living healthily to a hundred around the world, without these diseases, they are drinking a little alcohol.
Stay mentally active
Naturally, we begin to think of things like crosswords and Sudoku which do have stimulation benefits. But those mental activities are dusting off existing memories – those words have already been learned. Learning a new language or musical instrument, on the other hand, builds new brain connections. This creates a cognitive reserve for lots of brain connections.
Stay socially active
Being out and about, meeting up, with people or just being in the company of others can have massive benefits to dementia prevention. Pets are great for our mental and physical health too. For example, simple actions like petting a dog exposes you to other bacteria which is good for your gut health.
Cold water swimming
Cold shock proteins have been found to be beneficial to human health. What are the effects of these cold shock proteins, I hear you ask? Well, when you are extremely hot or very cold, substances called heat and shock proteins are produced. These help cells regenerate, support the immune system, improve your resilience to stress, and even protect your brain. It’s the reason why so many sports men and women swear by an ice-cold bath after a hard training session, match, or competition. Activities like cold water swimming have the same desired effect, but if you don’t live near the beach then cold showers will be just as effective.
Sleep and stress control
Stress control can take many forms, whether it’s connecting with people, dedicating some ‘me time’, avoiding unhealthy habits or simply taking control of the problem. There are lots of apps and online support out there to help induce calm and control stress levels.
The importance of sleep is often not given the attention it deserves. We spend a third of our life asleep and it is a core pillar of our wellness, so it is worth investing some time in getting things right. What pillow are you sleeping on? What mattress are you sleeping on? What are your sleeping habits. Could they all be improved upon? Sleep is the secret weapon of health because if you are tired you tend to make other unhealthy choices.
If you are worried about the health of a loved one and would like find out more about dementia care at the Future Care Group, why not check out our dementia care strategy or contact us today for an informal chat.
Source: Interview with Neuroscientist Dr Julia Jones on ITV’s, This Morning on 09.03.2023.