The Threat of Dementia

June 2, 2014

 

No matter who you are, or where you live, the threat of dementia is real. According to the World Health Organization, dementia currently afflicts 35.6 million people worldwide, and 7.7 million new cases are identified every year. This condition is characterized by a gradual reduction of cognitive functioning that can affect many aspects of life — not just mental comprehension but also emotions, social functioning and even physical characteristics. There’s no cure for dementia, but researchers have identified a number of lifestyle habits and behavior modifications that can reduce the risk of developing dementia — or slow its progression, if early stages of dementia are already present. If you’re looking to lower your own risk of dementia, here are some strategies that have scientific backing.

Change the foods you eat

According to research published in the journal Neurology, a diet low in iron could contribute to heightened risk of dementia. The study found that persons afflicted with the iron-deficiency, known as anemia, faced a 41 percent greater risk of developing dementia later in life. While it’s not entirely clear how iron contributes to dementia, the study suggests that a diet high in iron might be effective in reducing dementia risk.

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has published a list of iron-rich foods that individuals should try to eat when increasing their blood-iron levels. These foods include most meats, including chicken, beef, turkey, pork, shellfish and other fish, as well as non-meat foods like spinach, tofu, peas, soybeans, dried fruits, prune juice, green leafy vegetables, and other iron-fortified foods. Integrate these into your daily diet to elevate iron levels and guard against dementia.

Take up games that exercise the mind

Previous video game research has suggested that action-based games can stimulate cognitive function. A recent study published by the non-profit research publisher PLoS ONE has suggested that stimulation of cognitive functioning can be achieved through a wide range of game types, not only action-based games. The research found that the ways in which a given video game stimulates cognitive function could have a positive effect on similar functions in day-to-day life.

This is valuable information for individuals looking to combat dementia through brain exercises. Whether you’re looking for free game options or are willing to pay money, there are a variety of options at your disposal. For example, you can download games at iWin.com or search your phone’s app store for games that exercise and stimulate the mind. Seek out games types that have been shown to improve certain aspects of mental cognition, which according to the PLoS ONE research include action, match-3, hidden-object, spatial memory and agent-based simulations of real life.

Learn a second language

According to research published in the latest issue of Neurology, one of the best defenses against dementia may be learning a second language. A large study found that speaking two languages can delay the onset of dementia but an average of 4.5 years. One researcher said these benefits could result from the way learning language stimulates the brain’s executive functioning and attention tasks.

If you are interested in learning a second language as a form of dementia prevention or treatment, a number of options are available to you. Local community education often offers foreign language studies, and most community college or other post-secondary institutions will offer foreign language courses for students to choose from. You can even consider computer-based learning programs like Rosetta Stone, which help you develop fluency on your own time, and from the comfort of your own home.

*Kathy is a medical student, working on her degree. In the meantime, she’s a dental assistant and freelance health writer.