As a family doctor I tell people regularly that changing their lifestyle will decrease their risk of a heart attack or stroke. Turns out the same risk factors for cardiovascular disease are also dementia risk factors.
There are few things more heartbreaking than watching a parent or spouse slowly lose their memory and ability to care for themselves. Many people are rightly afraid of developing dementia, especially if their parent was affected.
A new study was published recently that looked at structural changes in the brain that are associated with dementia. The authors found that vascular risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, body mass index, and waist–hip ratio were associated with more brain changes.
This study wasn’t designed to prove causation – that these risk factors CAUSE the brain abnormalities. However, they did see that the more risk factors the patient had the more likely they were to have these changes.
Smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes had the strongest association. What’s most interesting is that middle-aged people with these risk factors had measurable changes in their brains. This was long BEFORE the memory loss started. The seeds of dementia are being planted, the damage is being done, long before the patient starts showing signs.
If you are a smoker, do whatever you need to do to quit. Now. Not tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. Smoking is not only hurting your heart and vascular system, it is hurting your brain too.
If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, work with your doctor to control them. Work on your diet and add some daily exercise. Add more fresh whole colorful plant foods and cut back on animal foods, fast food, junk food and added sugars. Take your medication as prescribed.
Smoking, obesity (especially around your middle), high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes aren’t just bad for your cardiovascular system. They are bad for you brain and significantly increase your risk of dementia as you age. Get serious, and stay healthy and sharp!