Most of us know somebody, perhaps a parent, grandparent, neighbor, or friend, who has been diagnosed with the life-altering diagnosis of dementia. Unfortunately, the 3 words, ‘you have dementia’ are spoken too often. Every 3 seconds another person is diagnosed with dementia, and rates of dementia are predicted to triple in the next 25 years. But there is hope, and your local provider can help.

“The evidence is compelling that treating hearing loss is a promising way of reducing dementia risk. This is the time to increase awareness of and detection of hearing loss, as well as the acceptability and usability of hearing aids." ~Dr. Gill Livingston and Dr. Sergi Costafreda

Forty percent (40%) of all cases of dementia are considered preventable. That’s 4 in 10 cases! Perhaps that could have been your loved one. Perhaps that could have been my grandmother who was diagnosed with dementia.

This simply means that, for too many people, the diagnosis may have been prevented. Most go years noticing, feeling that something isn’t right. Too many believe their ‘senior moments’ are just a normal part of aging; but they aren’t. While some forgetfulness may be more common as we age, the passage from normal aging to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to dementia is not normal.

Scientists believe the process of dementia takes hold and starts to impact cognitive health nearly 20 years before symptoms are noticeable (this is referred to as the ‘pre-symptomatic phase’ of the dementia).  This pre-symptomatic window is considered the most important time to buckle down and modify lifestyle to prevent the mind-robbing disease of dementia.

If we are going to reduce the number of times these 3 words are said, “you have dementia”, then we need to increase our health literacy on what can be done to be part of the 40% of cases that are considered preventable.

A recent report in the world’s oldest, and most distinguished scientific journal, The Lancet (Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care), has clearly laid out the twelve most important modifiable lifestyle factors for preventing dementia.  If these lifestyle factors are adopted and result in a reduction of people converting from MCI to dementia by 1 year, it would decrease the rates of dementia by 2050 by 10%.

Of the 12 changes to lifestyle listed below, it is important to note that they are listed in order of percent chance of preventing dementia if this risk is eliminated.

  1. Hearing Loss. The early medical treatment of hearing loss is the single most modifiable lifestyle factor for reducing the risk of dementia. In fact, a 2022 report from the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that treating hearing loss can significantly reduce your risk of dementia by 20%.
  2. Increased Education. Your mother was right—stay in school and never stop learning.
  3. Stop Smoking. If the threats of lung cancer and emphysema are not enough to get you to stop smoking, perhaps ending up without dementia will.
  4. Depression. Addressing depression in older age is critically important for cognitive health, and healthy hearing     goes a long way to reducing depression.
  5. Social Isolation. There is a reason that my first book title has the word ‘isolation’ in it—hearing loss is a major contributor to social isolation and withdrawal from friends and family. Treat your hearing loss and stop living in isolation.
  6. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). While most TBIs are the result of an accident, preventative measures should always be taken to reduce the incidence of TBI, therefore reducing the risk of dementia.
  7. Physical Inactivity. People with hearing loss are less physically active. This has been shown time and time again in research and likely is the result of increased social isolation in older adults with hearing loss.
  8. Hypertension. What is good for the heart is good for the mind! Cardiac conditions compromise blood flow to nearly all major organs, including the brain and the ear.   Love yourself and take care of your heart.
  9. Air Pollution. This was recently added to the list as air pollution might act via vascular and/or respiratory mechanisms and reduce proper blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
  10. Diabetes. Several studies suggest that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease are in a ‘diabetic state’, partly due to the decrease and insensitivity to insulin. Diabetics are at least twice as likely to experience dementia.
  11. Obesity. Being overweight is an emerging concern when it comes to dementia. The rates of increased BMI in older adults are growing and may be contributing to cognitive decline.
  12. Alcohol Intake. Like most things we enjoy in life, moderation is key. Consuming less than twenty-one units of alcohol per week (the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine per week) can help to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia as we age.
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