Dementia is one of the most debilitating disorders of the brain that can wipe precious memories and can eventually steal the freedom of doing daily chores independently. It includes a wide spectrum of disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Dementia is caused when nerve cells are damaged and their connections in the brain are disrupted. The symptoms can depend on the part of brain it has affected. While it can be caused temporarily due to deficiency of certain vitamins, many forms of dementia are irreversible and progressive in nature. Lifestyle factors can greatly affect your chances of getting dementia. Certain lifestyle habits like leading a sedentary way of life, not socialising enough, eating processed foods, smoking, and alcohol can increase risk of the brain disorder. (Also read: 5 ways owning a dog can keep dementia at bay)
“Dementia, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, poses a significant public health challenge worldwide. As research has shed light on the intricate interplay between genetic predispositions and modifiable lifestyle factors that influence the risk of dementia. While dementia is not entirely preventable, certain lifestyle habits have emerged as potential contributors to its onset,” says Dr Chirag Gupta – Consultant, Neurology, Yatharth Hospital Greater Noida.
Inactive lifestyle, a big culprit
“Leading an inactive lifestyle is a major risk factor for developing some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, later in life. Lack of regular physical exercise leads to problems like cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, and obesity – all of which negatively impact overall brain health over time,” says Dr P N Renjen, Senior Consultant, Neurology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.
In case you are wondering, how you can make your life more active than it is currently, research shows that getting as little as 150 minutes per week of moderate activity like brisk walking or swimming can drastically reduce an individual’s chances of cognitive decline.
Not sleeping enough can affect brain health
“Beyond exercise, sleep habits also play an important role. There is strong evidence linking both insufficient sleep (less than 5-6 hours per night) and poor sleep quality to accelerated cognitive decline and higher dementia risks by up to 30%, especially in older adults,” says Dr Renjen.
“Lifestyle habits raising the risk of dementia include lack of adequate sleep which is sleeping for a limited number of hours or sleeping late. Another factor is the lack of regular aerobic exercise. The recommendation is 20 minutes of any aerobic exercise for 20 minutes a day for 5 days a week. Excess alcohol which is more than two drinks for men and more than one drink for women is also another habit for the risk of dementia. Other factors include women smoking, uncontrolled hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes, obesity, air pollution and head injury,” says Dr Annu Aggarwal, Consultant, Neurology, Specialist Cognitive And Behavioural Neurology, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital Mumbai.
LIFESTYLE FACTORS THAT CAN RAISE DEMENTIA RISK
Dr Aditya Gupta, Director – CyberKnife, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram lists lifestyle factors that have been found to be possible causes of dementia.
1. Genetics: The risk of dementia may be influenced by genetic and family history factors. A higher risk may apply to those with a family history of dementia, particularly if the dementia has an early beginning.
2. Physical inactivity: Not getting enough exercise on a regular basis increases the risk of dementia and other illnesses. It is thought that exercise improves brain health by increasing blood flow and lowering the risk of cardiovascular illnesses.
3. Diet: An increased risk of dementia may result from unhealthy eating patterns, such as diets heavy in cholesterol, saturated and trans fats, and refined sweets. It is generally accepted that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids is better for the brain.
“A diet rich in saturated fats, refined sugars, and low in essential nutrients has been linked to an elevated risk of dementia. Consuming a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids may support brain health,” says Dr Gupta.
4. Overindulgence in alcohol: Alcohol-related dementia may result from heavy and extended alcohol consumption. However, moderate alcohol use may protect cognitive function in certain ways.
5. Sleep disorders: Prolonged sleep disruptions that cause cognitive deterioration, such as sleep apnoea or insomnia, may be a contributing factor. It is imperative that one gets enough good sleep for optimal brain function.
6. Smoking: There is a connection between smoking and a higher risk of dementia. Tobacco contains toxic compounds that can cause blood vessel damage and raise the risk of disorders that worsen cognitive impairment.
7. Inactive social life: A higher risk of dementia may be linked to a lack of mental and social stimulation. Preserving cognitive function may be aided by keeping an active social life and partaking in mentally stimulating activities.
“Loneliness and social isolation have been associated with an elevated risk of dementia. Maintaining social connections and engaging in social activities may contribute to cognitive well-being,” add Dr Gupta.