Six science-backed ways to PROTECT your aging brain and PREVENT dementia
When it comes to your BRAIN, I’m always telling you how the choices you make today set the stage for tomorrow. And—no—just because you have a family history of dementia does NOT mean you’re doomed to the same, sad fate.
In fact, research shows up to 40 percent of ALL dementia cases can be prevented entirely by making some simple, healthy lifestyle changes.1
In a moment, I’ll detail six science-backed strategies to help ward off ALL types of cognitive decline, keeping your mind “sharp as a tack” well into your golden years.
But first, let’s explore what’s normal—and what’s abnormal—when it comes to your aging brain. Because all too often, folks JUMP to conclusions… or worse, IGNORE burning red flags.
Common (yet normal) examples of forgetfulness
Normal brain aging often involves slower processing speeds and difficulty multitasking.
So, you may find it takes you a bit longer to absorb new information, like the name of a person you just met or a new set of directions. Or—you may have difficulty completing more than one task at a time, like having an important phone conversation while preparing dinner.
It’s also completely normal to occasionally forget familiar names and events—such as the actor’s name in your favorite TV show or where you put your keys. And you’re especially vulnerable to these common examples of forgetfulness when you’re overly tired or stressed.
The reality is… we ask our brains to do a LOT every second of every day. So, forgetting things from time to time—at any age—is NORMAL!
On the upside, you may find that some types of cognition and brain function actually improve with age. For example, your overall vocabulary, knowledge, comprehension, and critical thinking are probably far more advanced in your 60s, 70s, and beyond than in your 20s and 30s.
So, holding conversations with family members and friends might become quite easy… and invigorating!
But let’s move on to examples of forgetfulness that should sound the alarm…
Memory loss signs that raise concern
The first stage of clinical memory loss and cognitive decline is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). And it can strike as early as age 60.
In fact, research shows that 6 percent of people in their 60s have MCI. By age 85, 37 percent of people exhibit signs of it.2 But the sooner you recognize the signs, the better.
People with MCI have more memory and thinking problems than other adults their age. Many things can cause it—including medications, a traumatic brain injury, or another underlying condition, such as stroke, Type 2 diabetes, depression, or anxiety.
Outward MCI signs include:
- Forgetting appointments or social events
- Losing your train of thought
- Problems following the plot of a book or movie
- Difficulty following a conversation
- Trouble making decisions, finishing a task, or following instructions
- New challenges navigating your way around places you know well
Usually, these changes are big enough that you—or your family and friends—will notice them. If that sounds familiar, speak with your doctor right away. They can diagnose MCI by giving you a short cognitive test—and offer appropriate neurological referrals, if needed.
The good news is, most people with MCI can STILL live independently and maintain a “normal” lifestyle.3 And perhaps best of all, MCI is reversible. Meaning it doesn’t always lead to dementia.
In fact, MCI can improve with some healthy lifestyle modifications.4 Whereas once you’re diagnosed with dementia—a more advanced stage of cognitive impairment—you can only control the rate of decline…
When memory loss changes your life
People with clinical dementia exhibit more serious signs of cognitive decline—including major disruptions in language, memory, attention, recognition, problem solving, and decision making.
And unlike the signs of MCI, these changes interfere with daily life and make independent living much riskier… if not impossible.
As with MCI, a doctor can diagnose dementia by giving you a short cognitive test. But outward signs of dementia include:
- Inability to complete tasks without help
- Trouble naming items or close family members
- Forgetting the function of items
- Repeating questions
- Taking much longer to complete normal tasks
- Misplacing items often
- Inability to retrace steps
- Getting lost
Now, according to a study published in the journal Neurology, MCI progresses to full-blown dementia in about 15 percent of cases in people ages 65 and older. And the progression is much more likely if a neurodegenerative disease caused the MCI in the first place.
But I actually find those statistics pretty encouraging…
For one, it shows that even if you have MCI, developing full-blown dementia isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion. And that’s especially true if you can rule out a neurodegenerative disease, like Alzheimer’s.
Second, since dementia doesn’t occur overnight—often the changes in the brain begin decades before noticeable outward signs appear—that means you can start making changes today to STAVE IT OFF.
In fact, I encourage everyone over 60 to adopt them—whether or not you have signs of MCI…
Six steps to STAVING OFF dementia
- Take a “personalized” approach to prevention. New findings from the so-called SMAART trial found that taking a personalized prevention approach makes a big difference in dementia outcomes.
In fact, researchers recruited 172 men and women ages 70 to 89 with at least two risk factors for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Half the participants received educational pamphlets about reducing their risk. The other half focused on improving just one to three of their own, personal risk factors with a trained “health coach.”
After two years, the group that worked with a health coach to improve personal risk factors BOOSTED their performance on cognitive testing by a staggering 80 percent—compared to those who just got pamphlets.
The take-home message for you?
First, identify which conditions or lifestyle habits you currently have that may put you at a higher risk for dementia. Common modifiable risk factors include: high blood pressure, smoking, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, inadequate sleep, lack of physical activity, depression, high alcohol consumption, and social isolation.5
Then, target one or two of them to improve over the next two years. As this study shows, it makes a huge difference in outcomes!
- Check your meds. Some of the most common prescription drugs on the market can cause memory problems. Those include drugs for anxiety, incontinence, high cholesterol, seizures, acid reflux, depression, pain, insomnia, migraines, and allergies.6
Furthermore, taking multiple prescription drugs—known as polypharmacy—also increases your risk of developing cognitive problems. So, speak with your doctor to determine if the drugs in your medicine cabinet are absolutely essential. And be sure to keep the conversation flowing, as your needs could change.
Additionally, if you manage high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes with prescription drugs, make sure the dosage is correct. Inappropriate dosing (too much or too little) can be enough to lead to memory problems.
- Get some bloodwork. Before jumping to any conclusions about any cognitive changes you may be experiencing, make sure your doctor orders a complete blood work-up.
They should check for thyroid function, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), anemia, iron, syphilis, glucose, hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C), and vitamin B12. If any of those levels are out of whack, it can definitely impair your cognition, concentration, and decision making.
- Ask for imaging tests. Getting an accurate dementia diagnosis should also include imaging tests, such as a magnetic resonance test (MRI) or a CT scan. These can help rule out other causes of memory loss, like strokes or tumors.
- Adopt healthy lifestyle habits. A large, groundbreaking clinical trial out of Finland took older people, at risk for dementia, and looked at the effect of their lifestyle habits. It found that people who followed a healthy diet, exercised regularly, and took part in social events reduced their risk of cognitive decline by a staggering 30 percent.7
Plus, subsequent trials have also shown that lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise, can prevent up to 40 percent of dementia cases.
So, as always, try to move your body as often as possible. (Aim for about 20 minutes of physical activity daily.) And take steps to adhere to a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet filled with nutrient-dense, whole foods—including grass-fed and -finished meat, organic poultry, wild-caught fish and seafood, fresh produce, and healthy fats from nuts, avocados, eggs, and more. (See the sidebar on page 4.)
Other steps that can help prevent dementia include engaging in mentally stimulating activities—like trying a new hobby or learning a new language. Some research even suggests playing board games may protect against cognitive decline and boost cognitive function in seniors.
For me, I do The New York Times crossword and practice Spanish for 30 minutes every day. But, as always, you do you… adopt some healthy pastimes that stimulate your own curious mind!
- Prioritize your hearing. Most people don’t realize how important hearing is to preventing cognitive decline and dementia.
But a huge, new meta-analysis looked at results from 31 previously published studies that lasted up to 25 years and involved more than 137,000 men and women. 8
It turns out, people with hearing loss immediately performed 3 percent better on cognitive testing AFTER they started using a hearing aid device, like a cochlear implant. Plus, they reduced their long-term cognitive decline risk by an impressive 19 percent!
Look forward to the journey ahead
As all this research shows, you can prevent cognitive decline and stay “sharp as a tack” in your golden years—even if you have a family history of dementia.
And I’d certainly say the ongoing effort is a worthy use of your time.
After all, a sharp mind enables you to maintain your independence, pursue new hobbies, solve financial challenges, build healthy friendships, and enjoy the richness of life’s experiences.
For more details about how to protect and restore your cognition over the years, I encourage you to check out my Alzheimer’s Prevention and Treatment Plan. To learn more about this comprehensive, online learning tool, click here or call 1-866-747-9421 and ask for order code EOV3Z700.
SIDEBAR: New hope for people with Alzheimer’s gene
According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s disease does NOT have a single genetic cause in most cases.9 Instead, multiple genes—in combination with certain lifestyle factors—influence your risk of developing the disease.
That being said, a gene called APOE4 is probably the strongest genetic influencer of Alzheimer’s risk, as about half of all patients carry it. People with one copy of the gene are 3.5 times more likely, on average, to develop Alzheimer’s than others. And those with two copies face a 12-fold increased risk.
So… why is APOE4 so significant?
Well, emerging research out of MIT suggests that the APOE4 gene affects your brain cells’ ability to metabolize lipids and respond to stress. It also seems to directly disrupt your brain cells’ ability to carry out normal functions.10
Here’s the kicker, though…
Treating brain cells with extra choline, a basic nutrient found in many whole foods, could reverse these effects! And the MIT researchers hope this discovery will soon lead to clinical trials involving choline supplements in people who carry the gene.
In the meantime, I suggest eating plenty of choline-rich foods, like eggs, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, and chicken.
SIDEBAR: The plasmalogen-Alzheimer’s connection
Plasmalogens are fatty compounds that help build cell membranes. And they’re especially important in maintaining optimal brain function as we get older.
In fact, emerging research suggests that people with Alzheimer’s have 40 percent fewer plasmalogens than people without the disease.11 And this decline may help explain the hallmark changes and cell death we see in brain scans of Alzheimer’s patients.
On the flip side, restoring plasmalogen levels may help improve cognitive function in these patients… and potentially delay (or prevent) the onset of the disease.
You can find high-quality plasmalogen supplements from a brand you trust. Or—foods high in plasmalogens include scallops, mussels, pork, and beef, all of which can be included as part of your healthy, balanced diet.
- “Personalized Approach to Alzheimer’s Risk Factors Tied to Improved Cognition.” Medscape, 12/5/22. (medscape.com/viewarticle/985006?src=#vp_1)
- “Staving off dementia when you have mild cognitive impairment.” Harvard Health Publishing, 3/30/21. (health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/staving-off-dementia-when-you-have-mild-cognitive-impairment)
- “Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).” Mayo Clinic, accessed 5/7/23. (mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/symptoms-causes/syc-20354578)
- “Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).” Alzeheimer’s Association, accessed 5/7/23. (alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia/related_conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment#:~:text=Cognitive%20Impairment%20(MCI)-,Mild%20Cognitive%20Impairment%20(MCI),most%20activities%20of%20daily%20living.)
- “Risk factors for dementia.” Alzheimer’s Society, accessed 5/7/23. (alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/how-can-i-prevent-dementia/risk-factors-dementia)
- “Caution! These Drugs Can Cause Memory Loss.” AARP, 4/14/23. (aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2017/caution-these-10-drugs-can-cause-memory-loss.html)
- “A 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial.” Lancet. 2015 Jun 6;385(9984):2255-63. doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60461-5.
- “Association of Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants With Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” JAMA Neurol.2023;80(2):134–141. doi.org/10.1001/jamaneurol.2022.4427
- “Cognitive Health: High-Plasmalogen Diets and Alzheimer’s.” Today’s Dietician, October 2019. (todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/1019p12.shtml)
- “Causes of Alzheimer’s disease.” National Institute on Aging, accessed 5/7/23. (nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-genetics-fact-sheet#:~:text=In%20most%20cases%2C%20Alzheimer’s%20does,reduce%20the%20risk%20of%20Alzheimer’s.)
- “Study offers an explanation for why the APOE4 gene enhances Alzheimer’s risk.” MIT News, 3/3/21. (news.mit.edu/2021/study-offers-explanation-why-apoe4-gene-enhances-alzheimers-risk)