While some of the most common dementia risk factors—like age, genetics, and family history—are out of your control, experts have identified others that are within your power to change in order to keep your brain healthy. In fact, experts note that around 40 percent of dementia cases result from several key modifiable risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, lack of physical activity, and high alcohol consumption.
One modifiable health condition in particular can send your dementia risk skyrocketing, they say. Read on to find out what it is, and what it means for your brain health.
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Several health problems can raise the risk of dementia.
As the body of dementia research continues to grow, researchers are beginning to understand more about this neurodegenerative disease. Various common illnesses and health conditions are linked to your risk of developing dementia, including anemia, gum disease, depression, anxiety, and even the herpes virus.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 10 percent of dementia cases in the U.S. are linked to strokes or other issues with blood flow to the brain. Other risk factors include high blood pressure and high cholesterol. While it's vital to know about these health conditions that spike your dementia risk so you can talk to your healthcare provider should you develop one, one lifestyle disease in particular can substantially increase your risk of developing dementia.
This common condition spikes your dementia risk by 73 percent.
If you're one of the over 37 million Americans who have diabetes (or part of the one-third of U.S. adults with prediabetes), you may have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia in your life. Howard Fillit, MD, executive director of the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), told The Healthy, "Diabetics have up to 73 percent increased risk of dementia and an even higher risk of developing vascular dementia than non-diabetics."
A recent study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience supports Fillit's statement. Researchers found that elderly Chinese adults with dementia had a significantly higher rate of Type 2 diabetes than other members of the same demographic without dementia.
People with Type 2 diabetes have a heightened dementia risk for multiple reasons. Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, registered dietitian and author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet, tells Best Life, "Elevated blood sugar can damage organs such as the heart and increase blood pressure. As blood pressure rises, this can cause damage to the brain, which in turn increases dementia risk over time. Insulin resistance, a key factor in the development of diabetes, has also been shown to increase dementia risk."
Healthy lifestyle habits help manage Type 2 diabetes.
It's important to distinguish between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, since they differ significantly. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition involving the immune system attacking and destroying the pancreas's insulin-producing cells. Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle-related disease that develops over years and results from factors such as obesity, lack of physical activity, and eating a diet high in added sugars and saturated fats.
Among the millions of Americans with diabetes, 90 to 95 percent have Type 2, meaning their condition is caused by lifestyle. Fortunately, people with Type 2 diabetes can lower their risk of dementia by making simple adjustments to their daily habits.
"Keeping blood sugar levels within a healthy range and working to reduce insulin resistance are critical to reducing dementia risk," says Palinski-Wade. "In addition, daily movement, reducing stress, and eating a diet rich in fiber and antioxidants can help protect your brain."
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Managing diabetes helps reduce dementia risk.
The plus side of Type 2 diabetes is that many of its lifestyle risk factors are modifiable. That means you have the power to improve your lifestyle and better manage your Type 2 diabetes, thereby slashing your risk of developing dementia.
One of the best ways for everyone (not just people with Type 2 diabetes) to prevent cognitive decline is to eat a healthy diet. Palinski-Wade recommends consuming a wide variety of fiber-rich, whole plant foods high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids (like walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds) and antioxidants (like berries, broccoli, and artichokes). These nutrients help boost brain health and protect against dementia.
For example, a recent study concluded that eating half a cup of blueberries daily can decrease dementia risk by 50 percent. Another study on diet and dementia found that consuming one to two ounces of walnuts daily can improve cognitive function and reduce your risk of other diseases, including heart disease, depression, and Type 2 diabetes—all common risk factors for developing dementia.