Losing memory is one of the biggest fears of older adults.
Dementia is a general term for the loss of memory or other mental abilities that affect daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is one cause of dementia. Some memory loss as you age is normal, but there’s no magical drug or over-the-counter supplement to prevent it.
However, you can reduce your risk of memory loss by practicing these five tips that don’t involve medication, according to Dr. Mark Pippenger, a behavioral neurologist at Novant Health Memory Care - SouthPark in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Exercise is No. 1,” Pippenger said. “We have the most evidence that it is beneficial.”
Exercise reduces the fat content in your blood, which decreases your risk of dementia and stroke. Pippenger suggested following the American Heart Association’s physical activity recommendations:
- At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five times per week, for a total of 150 minutes. Walking at about 3 mph is considered moderate intensity, so recommended activity levels can be met by walking at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
- Or, at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three times per week, for a total of 75 minutes.
It’s fine to mix up your aerobic activity. Perhaps one week you’ll do more moderate exercise; other weeks might be vigorous. A combination of both is beneficial, too.
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Modify your diet
“A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids appears to be associated with a lower risk of dementia,” Pippenger said. “Anything that's good for the heart is good for the brain. A heart-healthy diet is associated with a lower risk of dementia in most of the studies completed.”
It’s helpful to follow either the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet, which was originally designed to help people control their blood pressure (Note: DASH stands for ‘Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension’). It became obvious that it also reduces risk of stroke and heart attack. The DASH diet is formulated with foods more familiar to Americans, but it has all of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
Try cognitively stimulating activities
Do activities or exercises that challenge your ability to think. It can help maintain your brain and cognitive abilities, such as your memory, thinking, attention and reasoning skills as you age.
“You can do things like playing games, either alone or with other people,” Pippenger said. “For example, word puzzles or jigsaw puzzles can help.”
Pippenger suggested taking up a new hobby or learning a new language. Other possibilities include art classes, a nature walk or card games.
Address your medical conditions
It is important to keep your blood pressure under control, or diabetes and obesity if you deal with those, Pippenger said. Maintaining heart health has a positive effect on your brain.
“Quit smoking if you smoke,” he said. “Cigarette smoking accelerates age-related memory loss and increases the risk of dementia significantly. Quitting smoking will reduce that risk.”
Listen to music
Pippenger said there is solid evidence that actively listening to music can help reduce risk of dementia and enhance cognitive function. Better yet, it is helpful to play a musical instrument, which requires the active engagement of a range of cognitive processes.
Other recommendations are to dance, sing or move to music. These activities provide physical exercise and can relieve stress.
Pippenger also suggested the Global Council on Brain Health website for useful research information on how to keep your brain healthy.