By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Dementia is usually a progressive condition that worsens over time and eventually leaves a person severely disabled. It is not possible to prevent all cases of dementia but some measures may prevent vascular dementia and also delay the progression of dementias.
Measures that prevent vascular dementias also prevent cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and heart attacks that may lead to vascular dementias. Some of the most important measures that keep the heart and cardiovascular system healthy are also those that keep dementia at bay. Major measures include:
eating a healthy diet
stopping smoking and excessive alcohol use
maintaining a normal weight
getting regular exercise
getting checked for high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid abnormalities
To prevent dementias, especially vascular dementias, a low-fat and high-fibre diet is recommended. This means including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day) and whole grains in diet.
Salt should be limited in diet as it raises the risk of high blood pressure. No more than 6 grams of salt should be taken per day (inclusive of cooked and processed foods as well as drinks and beverages).
Foods with high levels of saturated fats and transfats also raise the risk of vascular dementias. This includes foods like butter, clarified butter or ghee, sausages and fatty cuts of meat, cheese, creams, cakes, confectionaries and foods that contain coconut oil or palm oil. Certain oily foods with unsaturated fatty acids are however good for the heart. These include oily fish, nuts, seeds, sunflower, rapeseed, flaxseed and olive oil, avocados etc.
Smoking can cause the blood vessels to narrow. This gives rise to high blood pressure. This also raises the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, cancer and vascular dementia.
Preventing excessive alcohol use
Excessive alcohol use may lead to several problems including obesity, high blood pressure, liver damage etc. Reduction of risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and vascular dementia involves adhering to recommended limits for alcohol consumption.
The recommended daily levels of alcohol consumption are three to four units of alcohol for men, and two to three units for women. A unit of alcohol is equal to about half a pint of normal strength lager, a small glass of wine or a pub measure (25ml) of spirits.
Maintaining a normal weight
Being overweight and obese raises the risk of cardiovascular diseases and vascular dementia. Normal body weight is estimated with Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI can be calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in metres, squared.
In the UK, people with a BMI of between 25 and 30 are considered overweight, and those with an index above 30 are obese. People with a BMI of 40 or more are considered morbidly obese.
Getting regular exercise
Regular exercise is good for the cardiovascular system and may prevent vascular dementias.
Getting checked for high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid abnormalities
Detecting certain medical conditions early and treating them effectively also reduces the risk of dementias.
Preventing other types of dementia
This involves certain brain activity exercises. Studies have shown that rates of dementia are lower in people who remain as mentally and physically active as long as possible. This includes being involved in hobbies and a wide range of different activities.
Activities that reduce the risk of dementias include reading, creative writing or maintaining a regular diary or blog, learning new languages, playing musical instruments, continuing education, playing games like tennis, golf, bowling, swimming, walking etc. Keeping the brain active by solving riddles, crosswords, anagrams and puzzles may also help.
Drugs to prevent dementias
Certain drugs like Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The length of time needed to prevent dementia may differ.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)