There have been a spate of articles recently on how the lifestyle changes we make now can help keep us free from dementia and disability as we age, and even postpone death.
In this first study from Boston University, the researchers followed almost 6000 community dwelling older adults for 25 years. The researchers were interested in lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, diet, body mass index, social networks, and social support. For the adults in the study, the average duration of disabled years was 4.5 years for women and 2.9 years for men. Obesity increased disabled years by 7.3%, but every 25 blocks walked in a week decreased disabled years by 0.5%. They also found that poor diets reduced life expectancy by 1.5 years and increased their disabled years by 1.5 years and that smokers died 3.5 years earlier and increased their disabled years by 3.1 years.
The American Heart Association has issued a set of simple steps that promote heart health but that can also foster brain health and reduce risk of dementia. In addition to other risk factors, our brains can also be affected by cardiovascular and cerebrovascular alterations that produce brain dysfunction and damage, leading to cognitive dysfunction. They call these steps Life’s Simple 7:
Finally, the Lancet Commission on Dementia prevention, intervention, and care, reviewed existing research on dementia. From their review, they identified a number of modifiable risk factors that have the potential to delay or prevent 1/3 of dementia cases: actively treat hypertension, more childhood education, exercise, maintain social engagement, reduce smoking, and manage hearing loss, depression, diabetes, and obesity. Here’s an infographic of the risk factors:
Read the full Lancet Dementia 2017 Commission: The Lancet: Dementia prevention, intervention, and care
If the risk factors and recommendations look similar, that’s because they are. The research is pretty clear that we’re not necessarily doomed to live out our later years with dementia or disability. There are lifestyle changes that we can all be making right now to improve our quality of life as we get older.
Which one will you start with?