Looking to Prevent Dementia? Find Something You Love

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Key Takeaways

  • A recent analysis has found that leisure activities can reduce the risk of conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • Medical professionals agree that the key factor in whether an activity is beneficial to someone looking to reduce their risk and.or their symptoms, is whether it engages the brain
  • A lack of dementia specialists leads to some professionals being dismissive of signs of dementia

When we think about dementia, we often discount it as a concern for when we’re older, as something that our parents or grandparents might be grappling with as they age into the latter portions of their lives.

However, a recent academic analysis by a team of Beijing-based researchers has found that participating in leisure activities that you enjoy reduces your risk of developing conditions like all-cause and vascular dementia, as well as Alzheimer’s.

The Study and Initial Steps For Prevention and Care

All in all, 38 studies involving more than 200,000 participants were included in the analysis. This research makes the distinction between physical, cognitive, and social activity and found that the data supports the need for all three to be considered when it comes to the prevention of these conditions and the care of patients.

Activities mentioned include reading a newspaper, writing for fun, swimming, dancing, and volunteering, among many others. 

Reza Hosseini Ghomi, MD, MSE

Often my advice takes the form of walking someone through what their daily routine is, what their life is about, and then trying to look for one little baby step, one little habit change at a time.

— Reza Hosseini Ghomi, MD, MSE

When it comes to that sort of medical care, Dr. Bruce Bassi (MD, MS) says that his initial focus is on finding activities that are safe for his patients as the founder and medical director at Telepsych Health.

“When it’s with an older individual, [I’m] more concerned about falls primarily and whether or not it’s going to be a safe activity before I start to think about how much and how to get them to do moderate, rigorous activity. It tends to be enjoyable, something that they can see themselves doing, they feel comfortable doing it, [where] they’re not going to lose their balance and fall, it’s not going to make matters worse.”

Dr. Reza Hosseini Ghomi (MD, MSE), co-founder of Frontier Psychiatry, says that working with patients who are looking to reduce the risk of dementia or are looking for support once they are showing signs of its onset, means taking things slowly.

“Often my advice takes the form of walking someone through what their daily routine is, what their life is about, and then trying to look for one little baby step, one little habit change at a time.”

What These Activities Can Look Like

While it’s tempting to institute a hierarchy when choosing activities to prevent dementia, Bassi says the goal is to find things that engage the brain. 

“I think that can be anything that they enjoy doing that has some sort of cognitive demand associated with it via reading, doing puzzles, doing art, whatever they enjoy doing. It really is less important what it is, just whether or not it puts a demand on the brain.”

The study, published in Neurology, found a number of limitations—including the difficulty in separating out the possible benefits of social activity, versus physical activity, versus cognitive activity when those who participate in one type are likely to participate in the others—but their findings are consistent with the comments of health professionals: do what you love in a way that keeps you connected to the world. 

For Dr. Bethany Cook (PsyD, MT-BC), a licensed clinical psychologist and music therapist, what’s important to stress to those worried about dementia is that initial symptoms aren’t the end of the line. Cook says one key question lies at the core of this type of care.

“What do you want to do? Your brain is malleable, we can change it, it’s not permanently set and fast.”

Barriers to Care

That road to finding activities to reduce the chance of dementia can be complicated by a lack of knowledge in the general medical field about treatments, says Hosseini Ghomi. 

“I think providers that are not necessarily trained specifically in dementia really, still to this day, have a strong tendency to sort of write it off and say, ‘Ah, there’s nothing you can do.’ It takes away the motivation to diagnose in the first place, but even with the diagnosis they tell patients all the time, ‘Oh, good luck, do whatever you want.”

He says that the dismissive approach is often rooted in a lack of specialists and discomfort with a lack of knowledge when it comes to these conditions. However, Hosseini Ghomi also says that the societal pressure to solve problems quickly can also complicate how quality care is provided to those who are looking to make lifestyle changes. 

“A lot of times people want to jump on, or it’s tempting to jump on, like a diet bandwagon or something really drastic. Like, ‘I’m going to sign up for  30 personal training sessions a month’. And again, I think we just culturally have a tendency to jump in too hard,” says Ghomi.

What This Means For You

Dementia isn’t just something that happens to you, it isn’t inevitable and it isn’t without tangible preventative options. Research says that finding things you love to do, whether it’s yoga, volunteering, or making space for friends and family can call play some role in preventing the condition.

Read the full article here

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