Watching a loved one exhibit signs of dementia can be a heartbreaking and difficult experience. Can anything combat this condition? As it turns out, there are a few unexpected things you can do to help prevent dementia.
Although it is not a specific disease on its own, dementia refers to a group of symptoms that affect a person's ability to socialize, think, or remember things, according to the Mayo Clinic. In severe cases, it can interfere with daily functioning. Memory loss, confusion, and communication problems are only a few of the common symptoms, as further explained on the Mayo Clinic's website.
Research into the condition is still ongoing, but in general the causes of dementia include age, heredity, and possibly environmental factors, according to Dementia Care Central. For the most part, anyone looking for ways to prevent dementia will find pretty regular health advice. "It’s the same thing for every disease out there: exercise, sleep, nutrition, social activity, brain exercise, and good luck and genetics," says Rachael Wonderlin, gerontologist and author of When Someone You Know Is Living in a Dementia Care Community. There isn't a single "weird" trick that will definitely prevent dementia.
In general, though, there are some unexpected changes to your diet and daily activities that may help reduce your chances of getting dementia. Read on to see what experts and researchers have to say about dementia prevention.
1. Consume More Plants
This is yet another reason to load up on veggies. "There is extensive research that confirms that changes to our diet can help decrease our risk of dementia," says Dr. Natasha Bhuyan of One Medical Provider. "The most beneficial dietary change to reduce dementia risk is eating more natural, plant-based foods — especially leafy greens." This may be due to the brain-boosting vitamins and folate found in leafy greens, according to Very Well Health. Enjoying that big salad or green smoothie may help keep your brain in great shape for years to come.
2. Eat MIND-fully
There's even a specific type of diet designed to help people at risk for dementia. "For dementia, there is a diet called the 'MIND' diet, which is a combination of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet for high blood pressure," says Dr. Bhuyan. Fish, beans, and olive oil are encouraged on this diet, while fried or fast food is used sparingly, as Dr. Bhuyan further explains.
3. Play Mind Games
More research is needed to tell whether specific brain exercises actually stop dementia, as Dr. Bhuyan explains. "However, research does show that brain training activities can help keep our cognitive function sharp and may reduce our risk of dementia or slow the progress of the disease," says Dr. Bhuyan. Doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or even learning a new language are ways to keep your brain active. It might be a good idea to re-download the Duolingo app now.
4. Work It Out
Can spin class or Pilates help keep your brain in shape too? It's entirely possible. "Physical activity and exercise play a huge role in dementia prevention. There are several ongoing studies currently evaluating this link," says Dr. Bhuyan. "Exercise helps reduce our risk of heart disease or stroke, which are big contributors to dementia." Getting more movement into your days might benefit both your body and mind.
Tending plants might have tremendous benefits for your brain. "Indoor gardening and outdoor gardening have both proven successful in treating symptoms of dementia," says John La Puma M.D, board-certified internist and host of A Green Rx. Dr. La Puma pointed me toward several studies that support this idea. For example, indoor gardening resulted in significant cognitive improvement in a study of institutionalized dementia patients, according to the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Meanwhile, the use of outdoor therapeutic gardens to improve the lives of dementia patients is also under study, according to Psychiatry Investigation. Basically, caring for plants may help keep your brain healthy for years and years. Whether you're nurturing a succulent garden or following the MIND diet, these tips may help lower your chances of getting dementia later on.