Dementia: The ‘three major pillars’ for keeping memory ‘intact’ and avoiding brain decline

Dementia: Dr Sara on benefits of being in nature

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Soaring dementia rates have prompted calls for global action. There are a host of factors influential on the risk of brain decline, many of which are modifiable. But with all the information at our disposal, pinpointing what really matters could help thousands lower their risk. Some health institutions have broken this down for the public, highlighting which factors are deemed most influential on the risk of brain decline.

Managing dementia rates is proving increasingly challenging in the face of incessant coronavirus disruptions.

The progression of cognitive decline is greatly influenced by the activities that fill our daily lives, allowing many to alter their risk.

The Harvard Health website states: “There are three major pills for maintaining intact memory: effortful physical activity, effortful cognitive activity and social contact.

“Research shows the first two of these have a direct beneficial effect on the brain, even at the level of cellular function.”

READ MORE: Dementia diet: The seasonal vegetable that could slash your risk of symptoms

Effortful physical activity The benefits of exercise on the brain lie mainly in its ability to control inflammation in the part of the brain associated with learning and memory.

In fact, exercise targets mainly the prefrontal cortex in the brain, which is critical for decision making.

To reap the long-term benefits of exercise on the brain, scientists recommend increasing cardiorespiratory function through exercise.

Social contact

Social contact is another form of keeping our brains active by internal stimuli, novel experiences and perspectives outside of ourselves.

Social isolation, however, has associations with a host of serious health conditions, including dementia.

Reports from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of dementia by about 50 percent.

The reports state that loneliness can also influence the risk of heart disease and stroke, increasing the risk of each by 29 percent and 32 percent respectively.

John Cacioppo, of the University of Chicago, explained that in lonely people, the genes involved in cortisol signalling and the inflammatory response are up-regulated and that immune cells important in fighting bacteria are more active.

Effortful cognitive activity The brain is often compared to a muscle that needs to be flexed in order to stay strong.

Finding activities that are intellectually stimulating may boost cognitive reserve, which acts as a buffer against brain damage.

In fact, studies have associated cognitive reserve with a higher IQ and greater educational and occupational attainment, both of which stave off dementia.

Research published earlier this year confirmed these findings after it found people in mentally stimulating jobs were less likely to develop dementia.

Other influential factors Elsewhere on the website, Harvard Health cites dietary habits as a pivotal influential factor on the risk of mental decline.

The dangers of high-calorie intake are recognised mainly in relation to cardiovascular health, but the implications on the brain are equally troubling.

Certain caloric foods can impair the body’s response to insulin, the hormone that takes up blood sugar and plays a key role in brain signalling.

Conversely, Harvard Health adds: “Dietary habits (such as the Mediterranean diet, or intake of omega-3 fatty acids like in fish oil) have […] beneficial effects on memory function.”

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