Dementia is a progressive decline of mental abilities, including memory, reasoning, and communication. It affects millions of people worldwide and has a significant impact on their daily lives and those around them. While there is currently no cure for dementia, there is evidence to suggest that certain lifestyle changes and interventions can slow down or even reverse its progression.
What is Dementia?
There are several types of dementia, including the following:
- Alzheimer’s disease: This is the most common form of dementia and accounts for 60-80% of all cases. It is a slowly progressive condition that affects memory, reasoning, and communication abilities. Early symptoms include forgetfulness, difficulty completing familiar tasks, and disorientation. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, individuals may experience confusion, mood swings, and difficulty speaking and understanding.
- Vascular dementia: This type of dementia is caused by damage to the blood vessels that supply the brain, leading to a lack of oxygen and nutrients to brain cells. It is the second most common type of dementia and can occur after a stroke or as a result of a series of small strokes. Symptoms may include confusion, difficulty with coordination, and trouble with memory and speech.
- Lewy body dementia: This type of dementia is caused by the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain, known as Lewy bodies. It can cause a range of symptoms, including visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances, and Parkinson-like symptoms such as tremors and stiffness.
- Frontotemporal dementia: This type of dementia affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, leading to changes in behavior and language. Symptoms may include disinhibition, apathy, and difficulty with language and speech.
- Mixed dementia: This type of dementia refers to individuals who have more than one type of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. The symptoms of mixed dementia can vary depending on the specific types of dementia involved.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: This is a rare and rapidly progressive form of dementia caused by the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain. Symptoms can include confusion, memory loss, and difficulty with coordination and speech.
- Parkinson’s disease dementia: Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the nervous system. It affects memory, reasoning, and cognitive abilities, and can cause symptoms such as tremors and stiffness.
How to Slow Dementia
Regardless of which type of dementia you (or your loved ones) are struggling with, you can slow down its progression—and sometimes reverse the disease—while improving memory and promoting neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) with some or all of the following approaches:
- Exercise regularly: Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function and slow down the decline of mental abilities. It increases blood flow to the brain and promotes the growth of new brain cells, which can help delay the onset of dementia. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day, such as walking, cycling, or swimming.
- Stay mentally active: Keeping your mind active by engaging in activities that challenge your brain can help slow down or even reverse the progression of dementia. This can include activities such as reading, solving puzzles, playing games, and learning new skills.
- Clean up your diet: Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help maintain a healthy brain and reduce the risk of developing dementia. Focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Avoid processed foods, added sugars, and unhealthy fats.
- Incorporate the right nutrients into your diet: Beyond generally eating healthier, you can intentionally incorporate foods and supplements known to improve brain health. These include foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries and leafy greens, can help reduce oxidative stress on the brain. There is also evidence that adaptogenic mushrooms (for example, cordyceps, lion’s mane, chaga, shitake, reishi, and other healthy mushrooms) can improve brain health. There’s also evidence that hemp, green tea, ginkgo biloba, folate, and other nutrients can help.
- Stay hydrated: Your body needs plenty of water to carry out all its essential functions, including brain functions. Do it a favor and give it the hydration it needs to do its job.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is a risk factor for developing dementia, as well as other chronic diseases. Quitting smoking can help reduce the risk of developing dementia and improve overall health.
- Control chronic conditions: Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease can increase the risk of developing dementia. Maintaining good control of these conditions through lifestyle changes, medication, and regular monitoring can help reduce the risk of developing dementia.
- Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can lead to cognitive decline and increase the risk of developing dementia. Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night to help improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of developing dementia.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation, which can contribute to the progression of dementia. Practicing stress-management techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing, can help reduce stress and improve overall health.
- Seek medical attention: If you are experiencing symptoms of dementia, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow down the progression of the disease and improve overall quality of life.
Nutrients to Include in Your Diet
There are some foods, supplements, and nutrients that have an extremely low (or non-existent) risk profile at reasonable doses, and show promise of improving brain health considerably. Consult with your own healthcare professional before making major lifestyle changes; that said, here are some dietary additions you might consider.
- Foods: Some of the best foods for brain health include hemp, fish, berries, leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains. Fish, such as salmon and tuna, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of age-related mental decline. Berries, particularly blueberries, contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that protect the brain from damage and improve memory. Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, are high in vitamins and minerals that support brain health, such as vitamin K, folate, and iron. Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, are rich in healthy fats and vitamins that support brain function and can reduce the risk of age-related mental decline. Whole grains, such as oatmeal and brown rice, provide essential nutrients and fiber to support brain health and improve memory. Mushrooms, such as cordyceps and lion’s mane, have powerful brain-boosting compounds for staving off cognitive decline and increasing neurogenesis. And hemp contains a wealth of bioactive compounds that do everything from improving memory to decreasing anxiety to improving chronic pain and inflammation (by the way, edibles are the best way to consume hemp in measured doses).
- Supplements: Some of the best supplements for brain health include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and ginkgo biloba. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of age-related mental decline. Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of neurotransmitters and can improve memory and cognitive function. Ginkgo biloba is an herb that has been used for centuries to improve brain function and enhance memory.
- Nutrients: Some of the most important nutrients for brain health and cognitive function include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, folate, iron, and antioxidants. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain function and can improve memory and cognitive function. Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of neurotransmitters and can improve memory and cognitive function. Folate is a B-vitamin that is essential for brain health and can reduce the risk of age-related mental decline. Iron is essential for oxygenation of the brain and can improve cognitive function. Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, protect the brain from damage and improve cognitive function.
While there is currently no cure for dementia, making certain lifestyle changes and seeking medical attention can help slow down or even reverse its progression. This includes engaging in regular physical activity, staying mentally active, improving your diet, quitting smoking, controlling chronic conditions, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and seeking medical attention. Implementing these changes can help improve overall health and reduce the risk of developing dementia.