Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain, including devastating diseases like the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and lesser-known forms of dementia like Lewy body dementia. Even stroke can cause dementia.
More than 5 million people in the U.S. alone are living with Alzheimer’s, so there’s a good chance you know someone affected by dementia. It can be very difficult to watch someone you love deal with symptoms of dementia, which often include memory loss and trouble with language, along with personality changes, delusions, agitation, and less ability to solve problems or control their emotions. It’s important to note that although dementia risk increases with age, it is not part of the normal aging process.
As the unfortunate death of legendary University of Tennessee women’s college basketball coach Pat Summitt reminds us, dementia can strike even younger people — she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 59 and died at age 64.
It’s certainly clear that there’s a lot of pain and suffering involved with Alzheimer’s, and Alzheimer’s drugs have consistently come up short when it comes to curing the disease. There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. A recent small, breakthrough study published in the journal Aging found using a comprehensive, personalized approach, including diet and exercise, actually reversed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The results were so robust and sustained that many of the study participants were able to return to work.
With comprehensive treatments on the horizon, we can feel hopeful that integrative, personalized approaches could be the key to fighting this disease. In the meantime, though, it’s also important you take relatively simple steps to lower your risk of dementia now — before the disease has a chance to set in. Let’s take a look at some of the emerging ways to lower your risk, based on the latest research.
7 Ways to Lower Your Risk of Dementia
You may already know that avoiding processed foods, favoring a Mediterranean diet and exercising lower your risk of dementia. There are other relatively simple, meaningful steps you could take to lower your risk, too.
1. Beware of High Copper Levels in Your Water
You need traces amounts of the heavy metal copper to survive because it’s vital for bone, hormonal and nerve health. Too much of a good thing, though, could be bad for your brain. A 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that copper can trigger the onset of Alzheimer’s and fuel the disease. In fact, the study found that copper in drinking water at levels one-tenth of the water quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency caused a toxic accumulation of the pro-Alzheimer’s protein amyloid beta.
The researchers can’t yet say what the exact level of “too much” copper is, but if you have copper water pipes, getting your water tested for excess copper is a good place to start. Water filters that are NSF-certified under NSF/ANSI 53 for copper reduction will reduce copper to below the EPA’s maximum contaminant level or lower.
2. If Possible, Avoid Allergy Drugs and Other Pills Linked to Dementia
Drugs linked to dementia include common allergy and sleep medications, including popular medications like Benadryl, Dramamine, Advil PM and Unison, among others. These pills are known to have anticholinergic effects, something researchers are increasingly linking to dementia.
A 2016 study published in JAMA Neurology is a unique one that used brain imaging to detect how anticholinergic drugs impact the brain. By utilizing MRI and PET scan imaging technology, the researchers were able to show how people taking anticholinergic drugs experienced lower brain metabolism and higher brain atrophy. Participants taking the anticholinergic drugs also tested worst on memory tests.
University of Washington scientists also found the chronic use of certain anticholinergic sleep aids and hay fever meds increased a person’s risk of dementia. The study only found the link for people taking these drugs for three or more years.
Find out if your drugs possess anticholinergic properties. Aside from older allergy drugs and some sleep medications, certain antidepressants, COPD and asthma medications, along with drugs for overactive bladder issues, could . If they do, find if safer options are available, or work with your health care provider to possibly work more natural treatments into your healing plan.
For instance, learning to use essential oils for allergies could ease your symptoms. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests peppermint oil acts as a relaxant and exhibits antispasmodic activity, inhibiting contractions that causes you to cough. Peppermint oil isn’t a good choice for children under 30 months because it can impact the heart, lungs and circulation in dangerous ways.)
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