Fighting dementia

What can we do to boost brain health?
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It is not possible to cure or prevent dementia completely, but increasing or maintaining social and intellectual activities may help delay its onset.

Mental muscle

Several studies have shown that education is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia because it provides a protective reserve that stops outward symptoms even when there is significant disease in the brain. Associate Professor Sharon Naismith, Head of the Healthy Brain Ageing Clinic in Sydney, says that while cognitive training two or three times a week can be beneficial, it must be an active, novel process that increases in complexity and gets the brain cells working. She says that good computer or internet-based cognitive training programs aren’t widely available to the community, but can provide engagement and are often user-friendly. As long as they’re new to you and are increasingly challenging, activities such as learning a new language, instrument or skill can help.

For more information on staying healthy, visit general health.

Head trauma and booze

Maintaining physical activity in mid and later life is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia and is a recommended part of prevention. But those who play contact sports such as football and boxing and experience severe head injuries, including lack of
consciousness, may be at an increased risk of developing dementia. Some studies have shown that severe head injury – from any cause – can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 10 times. Protective headgear should be used in high-contact sports and activities where risk of head trauma is high.

Excessive consumption of alcohol isn’t recommended for good health, and if combined with vitamin B1 deficiency can lead to Korsakoff’s syndrome, an alcohol related dementia. The good news for those who enjoy the occasional glass of wine is that light to moderate alcohol consumption may actually lower the risk of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment. National guidelines recommend that healthy men and women drink no more than two standard drinks on any day to reduce risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.

Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to promote alcohol consumption to non-drinkers as a way to reduce dementia. So if you don’t already drink, don’t use brain health as a reason to start!

Simple steps

Without a cure on the horizon, prevention is the best medicine. To reduce your risk:

  • Engage in social activities
  • Start a new course, play a computer game or learn a new language or skill
  • Control vascular risk factors including blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Don’t smoke
  • Don’t drink excessively – no more than two standard drinks per day
  • Eat healthy and avoid too much saturated fat
  • Ensure adequate folate and vitamin B12 and E intake
  • Protect against head injury


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