Over 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease — and that’s just one of many different types of dementia you can develop as you age. If you’re like most people over the age of 50, and want to avoid getting dementia, you’re in luck. There are many risk factors, like what you eat and how you sleep, that are completely under your control.
Here’s what doctors recommend you should to to lower your dementia risk and live a long life full of memories you can hold onto.
1. Mind your alcohol intake
Alcohol does not cause dementia — if you’re already limiting yourself to one or two drinks per day, you probably don’t need to change your drinking habits. But excessive alcohol intake can increase your dementia risk — and getting your drinking under better control can lower your chances of developing it.
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2. Fix your love-hate relationship with sleep
Do you lose a lot of sleep without meaning to? It turns out poor sleeping habits put you at higher risk for developing several different forms of dementia. Do what you can to sleep better and stay healthy to avoid getting sick.
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3. Acknowledge your sugar addiction
Your sweet tooth might be hurting your brain. You don’t have to give up snacks or desserts entirely — you’re trying to improve your life, not make yourself miserable. Just do what you can to decrease the amount of added sugars in your diet if you want to avoid getting dementia.
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If you’ve never tried yoga or mindfulness meditation, either or both could be the key to lowering your risk of dementia. You don’t have to go to a class or even sit in complete silence. Everyone’s ideal meditation environment is different, so find a routine that works for you and stick with it.
Next: Meditation can really help with this major risk factor.
5. Get your stress under control
Life is stressful, no matter what stage of it you find yourself in. Too much of it can really wear down your body and your mind, especially if you’re not doing much to control it. Avoid getting dementia by practicing good stress management daily.
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6. Start learning a second language
Have you always wanted to travel to a foreign country, but hesitated because you never had time to learn the language? It’s never too late to do both. In fact, learning a second or even a third language can change your brain and lower your dementia risk.
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7. Lose weight, if your doctor says you should
Research suggests that people who are overweight or obese face a higher risk of dementia than those within an acceptable weight range for their height. Even gradual weight loss over many months or years can help you avoid getting dementia as you get older.
Next: Here’s another habit you should pick up, if you haven’t already.
8. Exercise more than you sit
Doctors have linked a sedentary lifestyle to an increased risk of dementia. If you don’t move, your brain could really suffer. Exercise not only keeps your heart and bones strong — it also keeps your brain healthy as you age.
Next: Have a little fun, and protect your brain at the same time.
9. Play memory games
It’s important to be wary of brain training apps that promise to improve your memory, but really don’t. That doesn’t mean certain memory exercises can’t help you avoid getting dementia. Something as simple as memorizing and reciting the state capitals can make a difference over time.
Next: Get this under control before it hurts your health.
10. Manage your blood pressure
Have high blood pressure — or at risk for developing it? People who don’t get their blood pressure under control are more likely to develop a handful of chronic diseases — everything from heart disease to kidney failure to dementia.
Next: If you’re still doing this after your doctor said not to, quit.
11. Don’t smoke
Cigarette smoking hurts your lungs and your heart, and increases your cancer risk. But did you know it also puts you at risk for developing dementia? The inflammation and oxidative stress associated with the habit can destroy your brain, too.
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12. Talk to someone if you’re depressed
Don’t keep any feelings of depression to yourself. Untreated depression can increase your dementia risk and even put you in danger of other diseases. Getting help is easier than you think, and you’ll be glad to have a support system in place, even if you don’t think you need it.
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13. Eat more healthy ‘brain’ foods
You might want to consider eating more seafood, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. These foods can help keep your brain young and healthy even as you age. Start by adding one more serving of vegetables to your dinner each night, for example.
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14. Keep in touch with your friends
It’s very important to maintain an active social life, even if your circle of friends and acquaintances is fairly small. Isolating yourself from the people you love can have major consequences on your health, especially when it comes to your dementia risk.
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15. Learn the early warning signs of dementia
Once you’re diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, for example, you can’t be cured. But catching the disease early can help your doctors begin treatments that will slow its progression. It’s possible to live many healthy years with dementia, so learn to recognize the signs just in case.
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