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Have you ever opened the fridge, only to forget what you wanted out of it? Have you forgotten a good friend’s name when doing introductions? Do you frequently misplace your car keys or glasses? Do you sometimes pause during a sentence because you can’t quite name the word you are thinking about? Are you worried that you are losing your mind?

Although these can all be very early symptoms of dementia, they may also just be age-related changes in the brain that cause some decline in short-term memory and slowing in your learning ability. 1 Dementia on the other hand is a slow, progressive decline in mental function that includes memory, thinking, judgement and the ability to learn that will eventually lead to an inability to perform normal daily tasks, like driving, cooking and handling finances. 1

There is no certain way to prevent all types of dementia as some of the risk factors such as ageing and family history are difficult or impossible to change. 2 However, research has shown that by modifying the risk factors we are able to change, we can reduce our risk of dementia by 30%. 2 Did you know that some of these risk factors (high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol) are also risk factors for heart attacks and strokes? So, experts agree that what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. 2

Ways to help keep your mind healthy: 2

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet – a diet high in saturated fats, salt and sugar can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, becoming overweight or obese, and type 2 diabetes
  • Maintain a healthy weight – overweight or obesity increases blood pressure and risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Exercise regularly – helps to prevent high blood pressure, overweight and obesity and type 2 diabetes
  • Keep alcohol to a minimum – excessive alcohol can damage your brain
  • Stop smoking – smoking can damage your arteries and cause them to narrow, which can increase your blood pressure
  • Treat depression – untreated depression increases your risk of developing dementia
  • If you have chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, make sure that you are getting the right treatment and keeping them under control 2,3
  • Maintain a healthy gut-brain axis by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut 4,5

High Blood Pressure

man being tested for high blood pressure

Studies have shown that high blood pressure in your mid-life years increases your risk of a decline in mental function and dementia. 6,7

Mechanisms include:

  • Untreated high blood pressure can cause lesions in the brain tissue, which can interfere with nerve pathways 7
  • Fatty plaques may build up in small arteries and can decrease blood flow to brain 7
  • Rupture of these plaques or pieces that break off (emboli) can block blood supply to brain causing “mini” strokes 7

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Diabetes

diabetes spelled out with digital testing machine

If you have diabetes or insulin resistance you may be at risk for a decline in mental function and dementia. 8

Mechanisms are not fully understood but may include: 8

  • Degeneration of brain cells 8
  • Damage to arteries supplying the brain, leading to decreased blood supply 8
  • Insulin resistance or low insulin levels may affect the way the brain uses glucose (sugar) and this could affect nerve pathways 8
  • Chronic exposure to high glucose levels can lead to the formation of products that promote cell ageing and the formation of brain plaques (lesions) 8

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High cholesterol

cholesterol dial indicating high

Abnormal lipid levels (high cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, and triglycerides and low HDL-cholesterol) in your midlife years can increase your risk for dementia. 9

Mechanisms are not fully understood but may include: 9

  • Fatty plaques may build up in small arteries and can decrease blood flow to brain 3
  • High cholesterol also leads to an increase in plaques (lesions) in the brain 3

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References: 1. Huang J. Dementia. MSD Manual Consumer Version. [online] 2018 Mar [cited 2018 Oct 3]. Available from: URL: https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/delirium-and-dementia/dementia. 2. Dementia guide: Can dementia be prevented? [online] 2018 Mar [cited 2018 Oct 3]. Available from: URL: ps://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/dementia-prevention/. 3. Takeda JRT, Matos TM, de Souza-Talarico JN. Cardiovascular risk factors and cognitive performance in aging. Dement Neuropsychol 2017;11(4):442-448. 4. Akbari E, Aemi Z, Kakhaki RD, Bahmani F, Kouchaki E, Tamtaji OR, et al. Effect of Probiotic Supplementation on Cognitive Function and Metabolic Status in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Randomized, Double-Blind and Controlled Trial. Frontiers Aging Neurosci 2016;8:Article 256. 5. Mohajeri MH, La Fata G, Stienert RE, Weber P. Relationship between the gut microbiome and brain function. Nutr Rev 2018;76(7):481-496. 6. Igase M, Kohara K, Miki T. The Association between Hypertension and Dementia in the Elderly. Int J Hypertens 2012;2012: Article ID 320648. 7. Kennelly SP, Lawlor BA, Kenny RA. Blood pressure and dementia – a comprehensive review. The Adv Neur Disord 2009;2(4):241-260. 8. Ravona-Springer R, Schaider-Beeri M. The association of diabetes and dementia and possible implications for nondiabetic populations. Exp Rev Neurother 2011;11(11):1609-1617. 9. Li R, Wang T-J, Lyu P-Y, Liu Y, Chen W-H, Fan M-Y, et al. Effects of Plasma Lipids and Statins on Cognitive Function. Chinese Med J 2018;131(4):471-476.

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