9 ways to lower your dementia risk

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day. It’s a special day when Alzheimer’s organizations worldwide focus on raising awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Every 68 seconds, someone in the world develops Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. In Canada, 564,000 people are now living with dementia, and 937,000 are projected to be living with the disease in 15 years, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

A major international study in The Lancet concludes, however, that up to one-third of the world’s dementia cases could potentially be prevented by tackling nine modifiable health and lifestyle factors. According to the study, public health policies and small lifestyle changes by individuals could result in fewer Canadians developing dementia.

The risk factors mentioned in the study include: physical inactivity, social isolation, smoking, high blood pressure, untreated depression, obesity, type 2 diabetes, hearing loss, and limited learning.

Here are nine small steps you can take to cut your dementia risk:

1) Get regular exercise. Being physically active reduces vascular risk and stimulates growth of memory-related nerve cells. A UBC study found seniors who walked three times a week for an hour boosted their cognitive abilities.

2) Stay socially connected. The Alzheimer Society of Canada suggests people be socially active by maintaining old friendships, making new ones, volunteering and combining social interaction with physical activity, such as a Tai Chi or fitness classes.

3) Keep learning. The more you learn, the more connections your brain forms, building cognitive reserve.

4) Maintain a healthy weight. Good nutrition and regular physical activity are key. Keep a diary of your daily food intake and exercise each day, and make small adjustments if needed.

5) Avoid or stop smoking. The Lancet found stopping smoking even later in life reduced dementia cases by 5%.

6) Manage high blood pressure. Medications and a healthy diet can lower high blood pressure, which raises vascular dementia risk by damaging and narrowing blood vessels in the brain.

7) Control your blood sugar. Uncontrolled diabetes damages organs in the body including the brain, so keeping blood sugar in check protects this vital organ.

8) Treat depression. Steadily increasing depression in older adults is linked to higher dementia risk, says The Lancet Psychiatry. Ask a health professional about appropriate medications or talk therapy to lift your mood.

9) Check your hearing. People get intellectual stimulation through hearing. Using a hearing aid, if needed, could help reduce the dementia risk associated with hearing loss, says University College London.