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dementia: a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. (definition sourced from Oxford Languages)
Is it possible to avoid dementia? As someone who lives at risk for diseases that accelerate dementia, I’ve wondered this many times. Every human would love to maintain a sharp mind far into old age, and hopefully until the moment of death.
Most people, especially people advancing in age, cringe at the prospect of developing the symptoms of dementia. And why wouldn’t we? Dementia is framed in the process of losing one’s mind. I have some thoughts on this, but I’m going to save them for a later blog post. For now, let’s stick to the discussion about avoiding dementia.
How to avoid dementia
Of course there are things we can do to try and set ourselves up to avoid dementia. You can probably bring some to mind right now.
- Eat nutrient dense food, especially foods full of antioxidants and brain boosting nutrients
- Weight bearing exercise (even if it’s just body weight)
- Learning new things
- Regularly avoiding large amounts of added sugar
- Avoiding damaged fats (trans-fat, seed oils treated with high heat)
- A positive attitude
But the truth is, as we age our bodies start to break down, period. There is a growing field of science studying why this happens, and there are some exciting therapeutics on the horizon. But the fact still remains, our cells are programmed to regenerate for only so long. This was a smart move by nature, ensuring that resources are recycled and available for the next generation.
As we age, depending on our habits and genetic programming, organs and systems start to break down. If one particular organ breaks down at an accelerated pace due to dysfunction or cancer, that could be the chink in the system that takes us down. It really just depends on what organ starts to experience dysfunction the earliest, and the most aggressively.
If the brain is that organ, then a neurological disease or dementia could very well be the reason for demise. I know this isn’t the most pleasant thing to think about, but dysfunction is how aged life usually gets “taken down”, if you will. There’s no avoiding the inevitability of aging, at least right now. Yet we know there are most certainly things you can do to improve the process of aging. (See above.)
The Nun Study
A popular reference for the power of lifestyle and dementia, the Nun Study of Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease began in 1986 by David Snowden, and epidemiologist and professor of neurology. The study found some fascinating stuff when it came to developing Alzheimer’s:
- Lifestyle and education seemed to be key factors in the lack of development of ALZ.
- Positivity was also key. (The sisters allowed access to their autobiographical writings, and positive words, sentences, and emotions correlated with a decreased chance of developing disease.)
- “Idea density” was a key factor in avoiding ALZ. In other words, the nuns who were more creative and linguistic were far less likely to develop the disease. Fascinating!
Notice there’s not really any mention of diet in the findings, although we can assume that living life in a convent, the sisters diets were likely modest and regimented. What has really been teased out of the study thus far was level of brain use correlating with development of disease. The nuns who were higher educated, engaged in idea creation, and were more positive suffered less from disease.
If you are part of a community that has been marginalized and been excluded from the opportunities for higher education and “healthier” lifestyles, please don’t despair. One way you can use your brain in a positive and creative way is to become a leader in your community, finding ways for your community to use their brains in the ways that have been shown to help stave off diseases of dementia.
There are most certainly lifestyle choices and behaviors that can be implemented to improve one’s chances of developing dementia.
We humans have made our environments very complex, with multiple factors that need to be defended against that can affect brain (and body) health. Chemical exposure, cheap processed food, digital devices that are replacing our own thinking abilities, services that are allowing us to become lazier, both mentally and physically. Not to mention all the “problems” we create for ourselves that can overwhelm our limbic systems that lead us down rabbit holes of negativity.
While we may not be able to firmly avoid dementia yet, I am positive that through simple diet and lifestyle changes we can most certainly give ourselves a big leg up. But sometimes even the simplest change can feel impossible when working against a lifetime of habit and desire. Fortunately coaches are trained to help forge new paths!
Offer to help
A coach can help you dig in and really tease out habits and the beliefs that support them, so you can lay the groundwork for future change. I can help you do that. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a time for a no-cost chat.
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