One in 10 Americans over age 65 has dementia—here are 15 ways to reduce your risk

One in 10 Americans over age 65 has dementia—here are 15 ways to reduce your risk

illustration of a silhouette of a person made up of circles, with some circles fading

illustration of a silhouette of a person made up of circles, with some circles fading

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As much as you have no use for your ability to still remember your childhood landline number, or you could really do without your ability to sing karaoke to every word of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” on cue—no lyrics needed on screen— a sharp memory is nothing to take for granted.

A new study published on October 24, 2022 in the journal JAMA Neurology offers a clear reminder why: 1 in 10 Americans over age 65 lives with dementia, and another 22% of seniors have mild cognitive impairmentwhich is one of the early signs that more serious cognitive challenges may be on the way.

Learn more about how they came to this conclusion ahead of time, then explore healthy habits you can incorporate into your routine today to possibly reduce your risk.

What this study found about brain health

Researchers from the University of Michigan, Columbia University Medical Center, and Brown University Warren Alpert School of Medicine teamed up to analyze interviews and in-depth neuropsychological tests administered to nearly 3,500 people over age 65 involved in A study on health and retirement (long-term research program organized by National Institute on Aging and Administration for Social Insurance). The study authors randomly selected participants who underwent brain testing between June 2016 and October 2017.

Overall, they found that one in three American adults over the age of 65 has signs of dementia or cognitive decline.

  • 10% had dementia. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding or sharing thoughts, or difficulty reading and writing, National Institutes of Health explains. This can affect balance and increase the risk of falls or hallucinations. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia; minor strokes or other trauma to the brain can also lead to the condition.

  • 22% had mild cognitive impairment. This is defined Alzheimer’s Association as an early stage of memory loss or brain decline that is significant enough to be noticed by themselves or others, but not severe enough to affect daily activities. Forgetting meetings or conversations, difficulty making decisions, and problems knowing the proper sequence of events are some of the possible symptoms of mild cognitive impairment.

They compared the cognition scores with data on age, race, education level and more to see if they could spot any similarities or general trends among those with reduced cognition. People who had less than a high school education were more likely to have dementia and mild cognitive impairment. In addition, the older a person is, the greater the risk for both conditions. (About 3% of those aged 65 to 69 tested positive for dementia, while 35% of those 90 did.) The scientists saw no significant difference in risk levels based on gender.

Related: How to eat to keep your brain healthy as you age, according to research

15 ways to reduce your risk of cognitive decline

These findings paint a rather pessimistic picture of American brain health, admittedly. There is another very important wrinkle that we cannot ignore: genetics. AND family history it certainly affects our brain health—and our overall risk of chronic disease—over the course of a lifetime, but our daily habits play a big role, too.

The good news is that not all individuals with mild cognitive impairment (22% in this study) will necessarily develop dementia. February 2022 study published in the journal Neurologyfor example, he reported that about one in three women over age 75 who had signs of mild cognitive impairment were able to reverse their condition so that they no longer tended toward dementia.

Because we can’t change our genetics, and because researchers are still searching for a cure for dementia, neurologists often recommend focusing on “modifiable risk factors,” or taking care of lifestyle habits that have been scientifically proven to be related to cognition.

With that in mind, we dove into the Alzheimer’s Association risk reduction and prevention guides, as well as other recent research we’ve covered here on EatingWell, and you’ve got your list of 15 hot tips to boost your brain.

  1. Manage your own blood pressure

  2. Keep healthy cholesterol levels

  3. Be consistent and steady blood sugar range

  4. Pile up enough physical activity

  5. Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet; the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet are favorites of the Alzheimer’s Association, a MIND diet is the perennial choice of neurologists

  6. Consume less refined carbohydrates and more dietary fiber

  7. Don’t smoke (talk to your healthcare team about quitting if you do)

  8. Seek treatment for depressive symptoms, if present

  9. Stay socially connected

  10. Limit alcohol use

  11. Achieve 7 to 9 hours of sleep regularly

  12. Challenge your brain through puzzles, reading, music, music or other hobbies

  13. Treat hearing loss, if present

  14. Meditate — even 12 minutes a day can move the needle

  15. Take steps to protect against head injuries—wear seat belts in vehicles, wear a helmet during sports, and “proof” your home from slippery surfaces and carpets

The bottom line

Cognitive decline is surprisingly common among American adults age 65 and older. About one in every 10 seniors has been diagnosed with dementia, and almost one in four has mild cognitive impairment.

Because there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, it’s important to focus on modifiable risk factors to keep your intellect, memory, and attention sharp for as long as possible in life.

Following: 9 things experts do every day for better brain health

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