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Gainesville Florida Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Staying in Mental Shape

As we age, we begin to suffer from a variety of physical ailments. While there are things that we can do over the years to keep our bodies in the best physical shape possible, age will eventually win the physical battle.

Yet, while physical aging takes its toll, there may be nothing more difficult for our seniors and their loved ones than watching the changes that occur when  the beginnings of memory loss manifest itself in full-blown Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

The exact causes of dementia remain largely unknown, which makes early detection challenging. For most people, dementia symptoms are their only warning, so it’s important to know your risk.

Simply put, the single biggest risk factor for dementia is aging. Studies show dementia is much more common in the elderly, and the National Institutes of Health says that half of people over age 85 have some form of dementia. Family history may play a role. If more people in your family have suffered from dementia, your risk is greater. But it still remains that some people with no family history develop dementia.

But, just as in the case of physical ailments, there are things one can do to slow that process on the mental side as well. None of this is a cure, and some of these, while strongly touted by proponents, may really do little to stop or delay the inevitable.

There are prescription drugs that have shown some success in slowing the process in some people. But nothing is out there yet that will stop the disease.

We often see promotions for so-called brain games, suggesting that stimulating your brain can slow the onset of dementia. But the research in this area is uncertain.

Exercise is looked at as a possible tool to slow age-related cognitive decline. But, while it never hurts to exercise, there is no certain evidence yet that it will deter Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Diet is also looked at as a way to possibly slow the onset of Alzheimer’s. As is the case with exercise, we see that diets high in processed foods, animal products, total or saturated fats, sodium and added sugar may be problematic. On the other hand, foods that emphasize healthy fats, fresh fruit and vegetables, more protein and less dairy, can be helpful.

Treating high blood pressure may be more helpful than some of these other suggestions. A recent study showed a link between high blood pressure and dementia.

Finally, recent studies have shown that social isolation is likely a significant risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. As a result, it is important, no matter what your age, to try to be socially active.

So, while we still know very little about how to effectively treat Alzheimer’s and related dementias, there is strong agreement that the best thing you can do at any age is to be as socially and physically active as possible.


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