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7 Ways You're Giving Yourself Dementia, Say Experts

Read on to avoid some dementia risk factors.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Why some people develop dementia, and other people don't, is not well understood. But that doesn't mean you can't do things to reduce your risk significantly. Researchers know enough about the disease to have isolated several risk factors, including common everyday habits. These are seven ways you may be giving yourself dementia. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.


You're Not Minding Your Heart Health

Woman getting her painful chest examined by a doctor.

What's good for the heart is good for the brain. Both are served by blood vessels, and when the heart isn't pumping as it should, the brain can suffer. A long-term study of nearly 16,000 people published in the journal JAMA Neurology found that those who had the highest rates of vascular illness (including diabetes and high blood pressure) also had the highest risk of developing dementia as they aged. 


You're Not Getting Enough Sleep

Depressed woman awake in the night, she is exhausted and suffering from insomnia

A study published this spring in the journal 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 risk was independent of "sociodemographic, behavioral, cardiometabolic, and mental health factors," the researchers wrote. "These findings suggest that short sleep duration in midlife is associated with an increased risk of late-onset dementia." 


You Have Metabolic Syndrome

A female doctor is taking the blood pressure from a very worried African American female patient.

In a study published last April in Endocrinology and Metabolism, Korean researchers reported that people with the most severe form of metabolic syndrome had nearly triple the risk of developing dementia than people who didn't have the condition. Symptoms of metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood triglycerides, low HDL ("good") cholesterol, and large waist circumference. A person is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome when they meet more than three of those criteria.


You Have An Unhealthy Lifestyle

woman eating pizza in bed
Shutterstock / Doucefleur

A study published last August in PLOS Medicine found that having a healthy lifestyle—one that's in line with recommendations about smoking, alcohol consumption, weight, diet and exercise—can lower your risk of cognitive impairment by 55%. Researchers found that was true even among people who have a high genetic risk of dementia. "Our results, corroborated by other interventional studies on lifestyle modification and cognitive function, support the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout the life course, even among the oldest old," the scientists wrote. 

RELATED: The #1 Cause of Aging Too Quickly


You're Smoking

Man Smoking On Bright Sunny Day Outdoor

"Among the many health reasons smoking is bad for your body is that it can hinder brain function," says Dr. Douglas Scharre, a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who treats patients with dementia. "One study proved that smoking just one cigarette a day for an extended period can reduce cognitive ability, and smoking 15 cigarettes daily hinders critical thinking and memory by almost 2 percent." The hundreds of toxins in tobacco damage blood vessels, including those in the brain. "When you stop smoking, your brain benefits from increased circulation almost instantly," says Scharre.

RELATED: If You Forget These 5 Things, You May Have Dementia


You're Not Staying Mentally Stimulated

Shutterstock / insta_photos

Exercising the brain may be just as important as physical exercise when it comes to staving off cognitive decline. Mentally stimulating activities that involve seeking or processing information (such as reading, writing letters, playing cards or board games, and doing puzzles) may delay the onset of dementia in older people, according to a study published last July in the journal Neurology. 

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You're Socially Isolated

Thoughtful girl sitting on sill embracing knees looking at window, sad depressed teenager spending time alone at home, young upset pensive woman feeling lonely or frustrated thinking about problems

Chronic loneliness causes a stress response in the body. According to a study published in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling, this long-term inflammation can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia."Staying socially engaged may support brain health," the Alzheimer's Association says. "Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community — if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program. Or, just share activities with friends and family." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss 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