Written by Ryan MacKellar, Communications Assistant, Alzheimer Society of Ontario
Did you know there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk of dementia? It is important to keep the brain healthy and active, just like the rest of the body. Increasing evidence links a socially involved, physically active and mentally challenging lifestyle to improving brain function and helping to reduce the risk of developing dementia, or slowing the progression of the disease.
One in 10 Ontarians over 65 lives with dementia today. Studies show that the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia will double in the next twenty years. So improving brain health with the goal of preventing or delaying the onset of dementia will pay big dividends.
So what can be done to improve brain health?
1. The first step is to move! What’s good for the heart is also good for the brain. Less than half of Ontario’s older adults get the recommended 2 ½ hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week. In older adults without Alzheimer’s disease, those who were very physically active were 38 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who were inactive. For people with the disease, regular physical activity leads to a significant reduction in depression, increased independence and improved quality of life.
2. Socializing also helps improve connections between brain cells. Unfortunately, people living with dementia often feel isolated because of the stigma associated with the disease. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, forty percent reported that they had been avoided or treated differently after a diagnosis. Keeping social connections throughout life is important for brain health.
3. Mental and social stimulation develops connections between brain cells; with more connections between brain cells, cognitive function can be maintained longer. Challenging the brain doesn’t have to be difficult. It can be as simple as dialing the phone with the other hand or as complex as learning a new language.
4. Finally, eating a healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, keeps the whole body, including the brain, healthy.
Improving the health of people with dementia decreases their impact on our health-care system. Studies show that people with dementia are twice as likely to be hospitalized as people without the disease.
Staying healthy can also delay the eventual transition to long-term care. Each year the move to long-term care is delayed saves Ontario’s health-care system $40,000.
The Alzheimer Society of Ontario is committed to helping all Ontarians stay brain-healthy. The Society has just launched Minds in Motion that incorporates physical activity and mentally stimulating activities for people with early to mid-stage signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, and their care partners. First introduced in British Columbia, the program is now available in six Ontario Alzheimer Societies thanks to start-up funds from the Ontario Brain Institute. The program will expand across the province in the next two years.
Whether you are six or sixty, it’s important to understand that you CAN do something about dementia by taking steps to improve brain health. Because a healthy brain both prevents the risk of getting a dementia and provides a cognitive boost right now.
The Alzheimer Society of Ontario is the province‘s leading health charity for people with Alzheimer‘s disease and other dementias. We provide programs and services for people living with the disease and fund research for a cure.