The World Health Organization says that roughly 50 million people across the globe have dementia. At any given moment, 5-8% of people aged 60 and older are living with the disease. While it is not curable, there are some factors that can play a big role in keeping your brain healthy.
The American Stroke Association and the American Heart Association recently released a scientific statement called “A Primary Care Agenda for Brain Health,” which gives primary care providers 13 areas of focus to help prevent cognitive decline in their patients. The statement was published in the journal Stroke.
Dr. Ronald M. Lazar, the chair of the scientific statement writing group and the director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, says, “Studies have shown that these domains are impacted by factors that are within our control to change. Prevention and mitigation are important, because once people have impaired cognition, the current treatment options are very limited.”
The statement writers say brain health can be promoted by focusing on the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, which include lifestyle choices good for heart health, as well as six other metrics related to cognitive decline. Those 13 areas are:
- Managing blood pressure
- Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
- Reducing blood sugar
- Increasing physical activity
- Eating better
- Losing weight
- Not smoking
- Treating depression
- Addressing social isolation
- Limiting excessive alcohol use
- Treating sleep disorders
- Increasing education
- Addressing hearing loss
The writers note that aging impacts all areas of the body, and negative effects on the cardiovascular system can translate to impaired brain health. For example, hypertension in middle age has been linked with an increased risk of dementia, while regular exercise has been found to lower the risk of cognitive decline.
Lazar says, “Many people think of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and other risk factors as affecting only heart health, yet these very same risk factors affect our brain health. Patients might be more likely to pay attention to the importance of addressing modifiable risk factors if they understood the links. I’ve given lectures, and what people tell me is, the one thing they do not want to lose during the course of their lives is their mind.”
He and the other authors encourage health care providers to conduct routine screening for depression, recommend that patients focus on healthy eating, and encourage 150 minutes of exercise per week. In addition, telehealth has been recognized as a good method to help prevent cognitive decline. Unfortunately, it’s also pointed out that many Americans lack health insurance and up to a quarter of the population doesn’t have a primary care physician, so it may be difficult for people to access this preventative care.
The authors did note that the success of preventative measures may depend on when they’re given because as people reach more advanced ages, cognitive and physical issues increase.