As the world population ages, dementia is expected to affect more people than ever before — more than 65 million people worldwide by 2030. One of the first symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is cognitive decline: forgetting words and names, losing items and struggling with planning and organizing.
There is a growing body of evidence that identifies some factors that reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline later in life. The data are summarized in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The article points to a systematic review of 247 studies published in 2014. The review found four factors that increase the risk of dementia later in life.
First, high levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood stream. High homocysteine levels are associated with low levels of vitamin B6, B12, and folate and increased risk for heart and renal disease. Studies have found that homocysteine levels can be lowered by consuming folic acid and vitamin B-12, which are found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, vegetables, and whole grains.
Second, a lower educational attainment is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline. Researchers hypothesize that your brain is like a muscle, and using it more will make it stronger. Third, smoking or any history of smoking increases the risk of developing dementia later in life. And, finally, a sedentary lifestyle increases the risks of dementia and cognitive declines.
The take home message? There is a lot we don’t know about cognitive decline and dementia. But there is evidence that you can take some steps to improve your cognitive health later in life.