Eating a poor diet
You already know a nutritional, well-balanced diet is essential to your heart and weight. But food’s benefits for the brain are sometimes overlooked. “The brain needs healthy fats, lean proteins, vitamins and minerals to function properly,” says Howard Fillit, MD, founding executive director and chief scientist of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) and the ADDF’s Cognitive Vitality Program. Also, research shows that people who have a diet high in saturated fats are more likely to develop dementia. The best nutrition you can give your brain is a diet full of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Replace butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil, and limit your intake of red meat, instead opting for other lean protein sources including chicken and fish. Here are some of the treatable causes of dementia.
Ignoring chronic illness
Untreated hypertension and diabetes are two of the greatest risk factors for dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, explains Dr. Fillit. “Diabetics have up to 73 percent increased risk of dementia and a an even higher risk of developing vascular dementia than non-diabetics,” he says. “Having hypertension in middle age also increases the risk of both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.” For both diseases, managing them with medication, diet and exercise can lower dementia risk significantly. To manage—or ideally, avoid—chronic illness, be sure to keep up with your doctor’s appointments. “Patients who visit doctors are less likely to get dementia, as high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension all can be modified when they’re under a physician’s surveillance,” says Clifford Segil, DO, neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Drinking alcohol in excess
Hitting the bottle too hard can increase your risk for many health issues, including high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, in addition to dementia. “Drinking too much can make people’s brains atrophy or get pickled, causing early onset memory loss,” says Dr. Segil. “Multiple studies have shown a correlation between prolonged alcohol use and cognitive complaints.” In addition, years of drinking alcohol can cause rare forms or memory loss that lead to confusion, known as Wenicke-Korsakoff syndrome. It is safe for your health to drink in moderation—one drink a day for women and two for men. In fact, doing so (especially red wine) may be good for your brain health, as the flavonoids in red wine are linked to a lowered risk of dementia in older people.