Dementia - How To Prevent

Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 21/6/2020

Most people are afraid of having dementia later in life. My mother has severe dementia and could not recognise me, my sister and her grandchildren even though we always live together. It is a very sad experience and it is a condition that is on the increase as our life expectancy improves.

A lot of people are concerned that they are getting more forgetful but there is a difference between normal age related memory slips and dementia such as forgetting where the keys are and more serious memory loss such as forgetting what the keys are used for.

Is it possible to prevent Dementia?

We cannot control Aging or our genes but it does not mean that we cannot do anything to prevent or delay the onset of dementia.

The 2 most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

Our brain is the most complex structure that is responsible for speech, memory, higher emotions such as empathy, morality, our desires and many emotions… These complex tasks are mediated by the connection between neurones called synapses. Our brain form a million new connections every second we are alive and these connections are constantly changing allowing for the storage of memories, personalities to be shaped by enhancing certain patterns of brain activities and losing others.

In Alzheimer’s disease there are plaque deposits that impair the function of synapses and neurofibrillary tangles inside brain cells killing the cells by preventing normal transport of food and energy to the cells.

In vascular dementia, the blockage of blood vessels causing damage to the cortex of the brain that is associated with learning, memory and language.

There is a link between Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes type 2. It has been suggested that Alzheimer’s may be triggered by Insulin resistance in the brain. Some researchers proposed the name Diabetes type 3 for Alzheimer’s but is not approved as yet.

Diabetics are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

Dementia is to be distinguished with a temporary form of cognitive dysfunction called “pseudodementia” or depression related cognitive dysfunction where symptoms improved when depression is treated. However, studies have revealed that patients who displayed cognitive dysfunction related to depression eventually developed dementia later on in their lives.

Many people with dementia are found to have vascular related brain damage in addition to the plaques and tangles that characterize Alzheimer’s disease.

It may be that having Alzheimer’s and vascular events increases the risk of severe dementia more than either one alone.

These findings may have important implications for preventative strategies suggesting that reducing vascular risk factors could reduce risk for both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.


What can we do to prevent dementia?

1-   Modify cardiovascular risk factors  such as check blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, weight


2-   Healthy diet:

-         Reduce intake of  carbohydrates such as rice, bread, pasta, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, table sugar (sucrose)

-         Reduce carbohydrate will help to reduce weight, reduce cholesterol and reduce insulin resistance.

-         Increase intake of healthy fats Omega 3,olive oil, nuts and oily fish and reduce animal fat and vegetable, canola oils

-         Increase leafy green vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach and fruits like blueberries, strawberries


3-   Improve mental health:

-         Learn new things: cognitively stimulating activities may be helpful in preventing dementia such as reading, doing crosswords, puzzles, learn a new language…

-         Connect socially with families, friends, social groups…

-         Practice mindfulness to live for the present. We can only live for the present but often thoughts from the past or the future tend to intrude in our mind and if we are not aware of it we can be deeply affected by the past leading to regrets, anger, depression or focussed on the future that does not exist leading to stress and anxiety. If we have the habit to think and follow those thoughts it will become a habit that is difficult to break and if we are not aware of the present time how can we remember about things that just happened. Poor awareness of our mind and the surroundings at the present moment will definitely affect our short term memory.

-         Improves sleep: sleep is mostly disturbed when we are under stress, depressed or anxious. Poor sleep can impair concentration and memory. It is important to have good habits before sleep: avoid exposure to “blue light” from TV, Ipads, mobile phones to increase melatonin secretion, not to be anxious that we cannot sleep, relax the body and follow the breath in and out and let go of any interfering thoughts.


4-   Limit alcohol intake: heavy alcohol intake over a long period of time can lead to brain damage and may increase the risk of developing dementia. There is a specific form of alcohol related dementia as well


5-   Exercise improves blood flow to the brain and prevent cholesterol deposits in blood vessels



6-   Dance is done by every culture around the world since the beginning of human history. It is an activity that combines social interaction, awareness of body movements, emotional expression, music and rhythm. Regular dancing was found to reduce dementia risk by 76% in a study by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience and Behavioural Review concluded that dancing can boost the connectivity between both cerebral hemispheres and long term dance practice positively affects brain activity. All these are linked to neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new neural connections to change and adapt. Combination of exercise and sensory enrichment during a dance can improve neuroplasticity.