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Daily Habits You Must Follow if Dementia Runs in Your Family

You're not powerless to reduce your risk of developing dementia.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The biggest risk factor for the progressive brain disorder known as dementia is simply getting older: Most cases of dementia are diagnosed in people over age 65. According to the Mayo Clinic, another risk factor is a family history of the condition. But whether dementia runs in your family or not—and having a family history doesn't mean you'll develop it—you're not powerless to reduce your risk of developing dementia. Research has found that several simple lifestyle changes can make a real difference in keeping your brain healthy well into the golden years. These are the daily habits you should follow if dementia runs in your family. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Exercise

Tired senior woman after jogging. Tired senior woman resting after running outdoors. African female runner standing with hands on knees. Fitness sport woman resting after intensive evening run
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Studies have found that regular exercise might reduce the risk of developing dementia by 30% to 80%. According to research published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, exercise seems to boost levels of a protective protein that enables communication between brain cells. The study found that people who were more physically active had more of those proteins. The benefit of exercise was even found in older people whose brains contained a buildup of toxic debris known as plaques and tangles, which are associated with dementia.

2

Eat Brain Food

Healthy quinoa lunch bowl with chicken as protein avocado as fat and vegetables broccoli and spinach and beans
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An unhealthy diet high in saturated fat, processed foods and simple sugars is bad for your heart and brain. Instead, try the Mediterranean diet, which includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts. "What's good for the heart is good for the brain," says Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent and author of the book Keep Sharp. "Clean living can slash your risk of developing a serious mind-destroying disorder, including Alzheimer's disease, even if you carry genetic risk factors." 

3

Get Plenty of Sleep

man sleeping in bright room
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A study published last spring in Nature Communications found that people over 50 who sleep less than six hours a night are 30% more likely to develop dementia in their later years. That was independent of sociodemographic, behavioral, cardiometabolic, and mental health risk factors, the researchers wrote: "These findings suggest that short sleep duration in midlife is associated with an increased risk of late-onset dementia." Experts say you should get seven to nine hours of quality sleep a night. If you're not, talk to your doctor.

4

Socialize With Others

Senior woman conducting an interview
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"Social interaction is one of the big predictors of neurogenesis," or creation of new brain cells, which prevents dementia, said Gupta. "Social interaction is near the top of the list when it comes to making new brain cells. Connecting with others has been known to be important for a long time. But we now know that it leads to the release of certain hormones like oxytocin, which foster neurogenesis."

RELATED: Habits Secretly Increasing Your Pancreatic Cancer Risk, Say Physicians

5

Protect Your Hearing and Vision

Woman having an eye exam at ophthalmologist's office
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According to a recent study, older adults who start losing both vision and hearing are twice as likely to develop dementia as people with only one or neither impairment. Limiting or avoiding noise exposure is important. Wear ear protection during noisy everyday tasks, and get your hearing and vision checked regularly to catch any loss in the early stages.

RELATED: Doing This After Age 60 is "Unhealthy," Say Physicians

6

Avoid Tobacco

cigarette in man hand with smoke
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Smoking isn't just hard on your lungs; it can hinder brain function. One study found smoking 15 cigarettes daily reduces critical thinking and memory by almost 2 percent—and smoking just one cigarette a day for extended period of time can reduce cognitive ability. When you stop smoking, the brain benefits from improved circulation almost immediately, experts say.

And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael