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Make the Change: Dementia Risk Factors You Can Avoid

No one wants to develop dementia – but as we live longer and longer, more and more of our society will develop a cognitive disease like Alzheimer’s. Since there isn’t a cure yet, doctors and scientists (as well as seniors and adults of all ages) are pushing for “risk reduction” in order to lessen one’s chance of developing these forms of health issues in the first place. 

“Science is still trying to pinpoint the exact reasons why someone develops dementia, which means there’s no surefire way to avoid developing it,” says Kristine Tilton, Executive Director of Waterstone at Wellesley. “There are also many risk factors that we can’t affect – some that we may not even yet know about. However, we do know that there are a mixture of factors that affect whether someone develops dementia or not, and by making good, healthy lifestyle choices, we can improve our overall health while reducing our dementia risk.”

Risk Factors We Can’t Control

Let’s start with the risk factors we can’t avoid. Although they're not something we can control, it’s important to recognize what they are so that if you do develop dementia down the road, you may be able to catch it early on (which is when the majority of our current treatments are most effective in terms of reducing and stabilizing cognitive decline). 

  • Gender. While women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, men are more likely to develop vascular dementia (which is related to strokes and heart disease). For other dementias, men and women have about the same risk.
  • Ethnicity. Evidence suggests that individuals from certain ethnic groups have a higher risk of dementia than others. South Asians and people of African or African-Caribbean descent tend to develop dementia at higher rates. 
  • Genetics. People who have a family history of dementia have a higher risk of developing the disease. People with Down’s syndrome also have an extremely high risk of developing dementia.
  • Medical factors. While some medical issues are a result of poor lifestyle choices, people who have inherited issues like cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, depression or medical conditions like Parkinson’s disease or MS are shown to be at higher risk than the general population. 

It’s important to remember that just because you may be at higher risk because of factors you can’t control, this doesn’t mean that you necessarily will develop the disease. As with any inherited health factor, it simply means that you may need to pay more attention to certain aspects of your health than other people – which will benefit you now and in the future. 

Risk Factors You Can Avoid

There is overwhelming evidence that our lifestyle choices are some of the biggest risks towards developing dementia, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health. Best of all, many of these risk factors are the same as other age-related diseases. By practicing good health habits, you have the potential to ensure optimum health as you age.  

  • Physical inactivity.  Not getting enough exercise is linked to pretty much every health issue you can imagine. It is also one of the strongest lifestyle risk factors when it comes to developing dementia. 
  • Smoking. Smoking is just plain bad for you. It harms the heart, lungs and vascular system and increases your risk of developing certain cancers, dementia and other diseases.
  • Poor diet. Eating an unhealthy diet leads to obesity, high blood pressure and potentially issues like diabetes and strokes.
  • Excessive alcohol use. There are even specific dementia that are related to alcohol abuse. 
  • Head injuries. Severe blows to the head increase your risk of dementia as you age. 

How You Can Reduce Your Risk

“It’s never too late to improve your lifestyle and reduce your risk of developing dementia,” says Kristin. “The sooner, the better! You can start living a healthy lifestyle at any time, and you can begin reaping the benefits practically immediately.” She suggests that, in order to be successful, you should find small ways to reduce your risk in your everyday life.

  • Be physically active. Experts recommend two hours of moderate physical activity every week. But you don’t have to do the two hours all at once (in fact, it’s better to spread it out). Start with five or ten minutes at a time if it’s all you can do, and gradually increase from there. You don’t have to go to exercise class, either – going on a bike ride in the park, playing with grandkids or dancing are all great forms of exercise. 
  • Stop smoking. Your body starts healing itself within hours of quitting smoking, and it only goes up from there. If you currently smoke, stop. Even if you’ve been smoking for years, it’s never too late to quit.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Fill your plate with fruit, vegetables, healthy fats like avocados and nuts, lean proteins, whole grains and lots of water. Eat red meat sparingly and limit sugary and salty treats. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight. This will reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes as well as dementia. By eating right and getting exercise, you will find that maintaining a healthy weight becomes relatively easy. 
  • Drink responsibly. You’ll feel more alert and keep weight off, too. 
  • Stay mentally active. Don’t forget the importance of exercising your brain! Regular mental activity keeps your grey cells functioning at the highest level possible while staving off the risk of cognitive decline. 
  • Stay social. Having a strong social network helps reduce depression and can even reduce your dementia risk. Keep active in your favorite hobbies and events, volunteer for causes you love and stay in touch with friends and family.
  • Visit your doctor regularly. Staying on top of your health can help you catch any issues before they become severe. 

While some of our risk factors of dementia are beyond our control, there are many that we can change. Best of all, any change is good change – and as soon as you start, you’ll begin reaping benefits that go beyond reducing your dementia risk. You’ll become healthier, more alert, more energetic ... all which will lead to a great quality of life, no matter how old you are!

For more information about dementia risk factors, or to learn more about how we provide distinctive and luxurious independent and assisted living options for seniors in Wellesley, MA, please contact us at 781.235.1614.

Beautiful Riverfront Community

Located on the banks of the Charles River, Waterstone is Wellesley’s only senior living community, offering premier independent and assisted living. But that’s only the first of many differences that sets Waterstone above and beyond other communities. 

Celebrating Dynamic Living

Here our residents live independently in their own private, spacious apartments – but without any of the worries or concerns of homeownership or living alone. All meals are expertly prepared. There aren’t any chores to be concerned with. No home maintenance or repairs to worry about. Just opportunities around every corner and time to spend as they choose – in the company of new friends.

Our vibrant community encourages residents to engage in a variety of recreational, cultural and social programs and activities. Enjoy a fitness class. Swim in the sunny indoor pool. Take a stroll on a walking path. Partake in a favorite hobby or pastime. Discover a new interest. With Waterstone at Wellesley, there’s a world of opportunity waiting right outside our residents’ doors. 

Confidence of Care

The hallmark of Waterstone assisted living is the peace of mind we provide both our residents and their families. Knowing that care and support is available right on site instills a sense of confidence and calm one can’t find living alone. 

For prospective residents or their families interested in residing at Waterstone at Wellesley, please contact us at 781.235.1614.