Memory Loss
April 20, 2015 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Please tell me everything that is known about preventing dementia.

I have dementia in my immediate (and distant) family and already am more forgetful than my same-age peers. This scares the crap out of me.
Please point me to everything that is now known about what we can do to prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimer’s and memory loss generally.

I do know the main points: exercise seems to be the most effective intervention and I do that now, and I am happy to have learned that coffee seems protective, but I’ll take any other information. I am a nurse and feel able to read medical studies, but also welcome links to books or articles written for a popular audience.
posted by latkes to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
there are some studies into different types of video games that might be able to help with this.
posted by nadawi at 8:35 AM on April 20, 2015

The neuropsychologist who came to talk to my clinical neuroscience class pointed out that knowing a second language tends to be a protective factor re: dementia.
posted by Gymnopedist at 9:05 AM on April 20, 2015

I read a very small study recently concerning lifestyle interventions that were successful in arresting or reversing the progression of dementia. I will look for the link and return, but in case I don't find it, the one recommendation that it included that I hadn't heard before was fasting for at least 12 hours per day (including sleeping hours). In other words, only eat during a 12 hour window per day (e.g. something like 8 AM to 8 PM).
posted by telegraph at 9:07 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Still haven't finished reading it, but The Brain That Changes Itself appears to indicate that constantly challenging the brain gives it a lot more resiliency. So taking on new kind of learning and challenges as we get older: learn a new language, learn to draw, pick up an unfamiliar sport -- all of these can help create new connections, so that when dementia kicks in, the signals can get through or around the blockages.

We have dementia in my family as well, and my brother (who is a doctor) says he's seen studies associating high cholesterol levels with dementia. My personal physician is not convinced, however.

There's a regular newsletter from John Hopkins on memory studies that you might find useful.
posted by suelac at 9:08 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Back when I gave up sugar, I had bookmarked a study suggesting that might be preventative against dementia, but I can't find it right now as I'm away from my university computer/network access.
posted by lollusc at 9:12 AM on April 20, 2015

I don't have research links but I believe chess has been shown to be helpful. And it's a very rewarding hobby to pick up.
posted by pdq at 9:39 AM on April 20, 2015

Hearing loss and dementia seem to have some links (so obviously only applies if you have or develop hearing loss, but it'd be something to monitor). Its an AARP article, but mentions the specific researchers in case you want to review the work directly. As far as I know there are no randomized-controlled studies regarding treating hearing loss and mitigating cognitive decline (it's been a while since I've reviewed the literature myself), but it may be an area of research to check out every so often.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:44 AM on April 20, 2015

I know I'm always beating the apnea drum, but sleep apnea has been linked to dementia risk. If you think you might have apnea or another sleep disorder, get a sleep test - especially if you have a bed partner or kids who tell you that you snore heavily or stop breathing at night, or you don't feel rested when you awake. When I got my CPAP, I think I gained an extra 20 IQ points, and my ability to focus and concentrate improved so much.

Even if you don't have apnea, getting 7 to 9 hours of good sleep every night is important to your health. Be sure you are getting an adequate amount of good-quality sleep. If you aren't, talk to your doctor.

I find that exercise is also a brain-enhancer. I have a FitBit and try to get in my 10,000 steps a day and at least 30 active minutes - walking or swimming. Bonus: the exercise makes me sleep better.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:47 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Depression and other mental illness are strongly correlated with dementia, so be sure to get that treated if its an issue.

I am in a similar position and take a number of supplements/medications to deal with the effects. I can say that the medication I take makes my brain function better even now - I don't know that I could consistently take it if it were just a vague longterm payoff. That said, none of this is on-label usage. Feel free to MeMail me if this is of interest.
posted by decathexis at 11:42 AM on April 20, 2015

Science Daily is a great resource. They post plainly written summaries and then give links to the complete studies.
posted by wintersweet at 11:52 AM on April 20, 2015

There was a nun study that showed that lots of learning improved brain health. Some of the nuns had brains that looked like they should have had dementia, but they didn't show it, because they had active brains.

Coffee has some preventive goodness. Diabetes seems to promote dementia, not surprising, since it affects circulation.
posted by theora55 at 12:44 PM on April 20, 2015

Are you certain that the dementia in your family is Alzheimer's? Could it have been vascular dementia? Early-onset is another animal altogether, as well, and is the one with the strongest genetic correlation. I would suggest you identify the type of dementia as specifically as possible and then search Medline or PubMed.

Other than the things mentioned above, it should be known that anesthesia can bring on dementia in (usually older) persons who previously had no cognitive impairment.
posted by Riverine at 1:13 PM on April 20, 2015

Maintaining low blood pressure (at least less than 140/80 as a target if you don't have diabetes, of course lower is better) and low cholesterol (<6.5 mmol/L) have been shown to decrease your relative risk of dementia. So has not smoking and not having a traumatic brain injury (wear a helmet!).
posted by chemgirl at 2:11 PM on April 20, 2015

Response by poster: Are you certain that the dementia in your family is Alzheimer's?

There's no way to know if it's Alzheimer's until the person is dead, and the closest family member is still alive. More distant family members with dementia were never given the official diagnosis. Likewise, my close family member is age-wise on an ambiguous edge between early onset and later. Her providers are treating her with the assumption it’s probably Alzheimer's though.

I’m familiar with PubMed etc and have read the basic information available, but am looking for either specific studies I may not have heard of, or articles or books for lay people that may delve deeply into newer studies or give broad overviews of the current available information on the problem.
posted by latkes at 2:14 PM on April 20, 2015

Playing a musical instrument may reduce chances of dementia .
posted by dilettante at 2:27 PM on April 20, 2015

Here's the full text of the study I referenced upthread. I'll quote here the summary:
In summary:

• A novel, comprehensive, and personalized therapeutic system is described that is based on the underlying pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease. The basic tenets for the development of this system are also described.
• Of the first 10 patients who utilized this program, including patients with memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD), amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), or subjective cognitive impairment (SCI), nine showed subjective or objective improvement.
• One potentially important outcome is that all six of the patients whose cognitive decline had a major impact on job performance were able to return to work or continue working without difficulty.
posted by telegraph at 2:46 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nobody has mentioned "The China Study"?
posted by notned at 4:02 PM on April 20, 2015

a clarification on bilingualism and alzheimers---the protection is a delay in the emergence of symptoms only, not a decreased incidence. The delay in symptoms is about four years.
posted by bluesky43 at 4:37 PM on April 20, 2015

ghost phoneme at 9:44 AM: Earlier this year (or late last year), I watched a Charlie Rose special on the brain where he had a roundtable with several different neurology, otolaryngology, and speech-language pathology experts. One of the subjects they covered when talking about hearing loss was dementia due to atrophy of the speech/hearing centers of the brain due to deafness. It was an interesting show.
posted by Fukiyama at 6:53 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's hard to say that anything is actually going to prevent you from getting dementia; there are many different dementing illnesses that have many different sources, some of which have no known prevention or treatment. But the best thing to do is to have the healthiest brain possible now! The more focused work you do with your brain, the stronger your brain will be in the event that you do have some sort of neurocognitive issue.

Fitness and sufficient sleep are important, but so is cardiac health and blood pressure! Also adult onset diabetes has been shown to be a significantly co-occurring disease, so watch your blood sugar, control your carb intake, and watch your body fat as this can contribute to a higher risk factor for diabetes.

There is some research saying the Mediterranean diet promotes brain health as well as heart health, and so does the DASH diet, though that one is pretty restrictive.

The Alzheimer's Association is a great resource for information and articles about all kinds of dementia, not just Alzheimer's disease.
posted by assenav at 12:37 AM on April 21, 2015

Here's a big article in a Lancet journal on the prevention of dementia. It's more aimed at a population-level approach, but the risk factors they identified in the 'interpretation' section may be interesting to you
posted by DrRotcod at 10:24 AM on April 21, 2015

Exercise seems to be the most effective intervention and I do that now.

My husband works with seniors. I've heard the same story over, and over, and over: client has mild dementia, barely distinguishable from general age-related cognitive decline; client falls down and breaks something; client stops exercising; client gets full-blown dementia. It happens very quickly too, literally a couple months in bed can leave a senior a shell of their former self. I have no family history of dementia whatsoever but these stories scared me enough so that I switched a lot of my exercise to lower body and core strength building - basically, fall prevention.

It's more about balance than anything else - for example, there are many studies on seniors dramatically reducing their fall risk by doing very moderate but regular amounts of Tai Chi. This randomized controlled study for example found that about 20% of seniors with Parkinson's who did Tai Chi had falls, compared to about 50% of those who didn't, an incredible result considering that these are people with a serious, debilitating movement disorder. If you exercise for balance, you are on a great path!

I've also read quite a bit on the effects of turmeric for dementia prevention. I now drink turmeric "tea" daily - basically, pure turmeric powder with some honey to counteract the bitterness. If you enjoy indian or generally spicy food, it's a delicious drink regardless of its health benefits.
posted by rada at 1:19 PM on April 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

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