There are many ways that your current habits, behaviors, likes, dislikes, priorities, and more can indicate that you might be more or less at risk for certain conditions later on. Though many of these conditions are complex and there's no specific set of criteria that definitively predicts a later diagnosis, if you have these seven habits now, you might be more likely to get dementia later in life.
Dementia can have a genetic component, but doesn't always. Not only that, but its unpredictability and the fact that it typically doesn't show up until later on in life makes it a scary proposition. But knowing about some of the habits that might mean that you could have a greater risk of developing the condition — as well as what could be done to (ideally) minimize your risk — can make it slightly less frightening. "Multiple studies have suggested that the greatest fear people have is that they will one day develop dementia – this fear is real, but the notion that we can do something about this, that we can impact our risk, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, can be a powerful motivator to get off the couch, to turn off the TV, and to start living," Dr. James C. Jackson, PsyD, a neuropsychologist who studies aging and cognitive decline and an associate professor at Vanderbilt Medical Center, tells Romper by email.
While breaking these habits or doing things differently won't guarantee that you won't still later develop a form of dementia or any other condition, knowing that these habits might potentially increase your risk is still very important.
1You Stay Up Late & Get Up Early
Not-so-great sleeping habits now, especially if they're long-lasting, might raise your risk for developing dementia later in life. "We need sleep for a number of reasons, but one newly discovered function of sleep is brain cleansing," Hillary Tinapple, LMT, CST, a craniosacral therapist, tells Romper in an email exchange. "New research out of the University of Rochester is showing that our brains are most productive in flushing the accumulated protein fragments in the brain when we are asleep. The fluid in this flushing process is called cerebrospinal fluid, and the mechanism is called the glymphatic system. When we don’t sleep or when there’s atrophy of the brain structures responsible for cleansing, these accumulations remain in the brain and can cause problems."
2You Eat A Ton Of Foods High In Saturated Fat
Dr. Howard Fillit, MD, the founding executive director and chief scientist of the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) and the ADDF's Cognitive Vitality Program, told Reader's Digest that healthy fats, lean proteins, and other components of a healthy diet can help minimize your risk. The same Reader's Digest article noted that there's research that suggests that high quantities of saturated fat could raise your risk of developing the condition.
3You Take Risks That Could Lead To Concussions
"Choosing to exercise is also very important – studies consistently demonstrate that vigorous cardiovascular exercise sharply reduces dementia risk, reflecting the fact that, not surprisingly, what is good for your overall health is also good for your brain," Jackson says. But if what you're doing is, in and of itself, too risky — like playing football, boxing, and doing other things that could lead to concussions — that might not be so great.
Susan London, LMSW, the director of social work at Shore View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, tells Romper by email that these kinds of brain injuries can either increase your risk of dementia or, at least, show up on brain scans as things that look similar to dementia.
4You Stress Yourself Out
Stress can be good for you, but it can also increase your risk for a number of conditions, potentially including dementia. "Stress isn’t always a bad thing, but chronic stress raises the cortisol levels in the blood, which strengthens the amygdala, the part of the brain involved in fear responses, while shrinking the part of the brain called the hippocampus, making it harder to learn and remember," Tinapple, says. "The more stressed out we are, the more sensitive to stress we become, and this can have serious effects on brain health."
5You Use A Lot Of Drugs Or Consume A Lot Of Alcohol
Drug and alcohol use earlier in life also could potentially make you more likely to get dementia. London says that this is because it basically has a similar effect on the brain as concussions and other brain injuries. "Over time, the use of illicit substances and multiple blows to the head can damage the brain significantly," she adds. Brain imaging can show this too.
6You Stick To Routines & Never Switch Things Up
Sticking to a set schedule or specific activities might not be the best idea either because your brain has to adapt when you try to learn and do new things. "The fact that 'mom loves to write' is essentially triggering, and strengthening (or maintaining) only one area of her brain," London says. "In lieu of this, other parts of the brain are not being stimulated, and can be potentially left ignored or forgotten about. It is the equivalent of thinking that someone can have a perfect physique when all they do is bicep curls. Many years of repetitive activity will lead to just that: nice biceps. But there is so much left of the body to work on, as there is the brain. In these instances, I always recommend for a person to diversify the amount of mental stimulation they have, as well as their exposure to different types of activities." It can help keep your brain active in the long-run.
7You Don't Value Strong Friendships & Relationships
"Relational engagement is crucial and individuals who are lonely are at high risk of much sharper cognitive decline," Jackson says. Make time to see your friends and family when you can. If you don't nurture and maintain the relationships with friends and others close to you, not only can that be difficult for you in the short-term, but it could potentially end up having a serious effect on you further down the road.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.