Memory Maximizers: Alcohol & Dementia; Fitness & Dementia Risks

Here's the latest research to help you keep your brain sharp.

Limit or Avoid Alcohol Consumption to Reduce Your Dementia Risk

Many risk factors for dementia are unavoidable. These include advancing age, inherited traits, and brain injury, among others. But according to a study published recently in The Lancet Public Health, one of the main contributors to dementia is alcohol abuse. Fortunately, that is a preventable risk factor. Researchers in France examined the health records of about 1 million older adults. Of the 57,000 people who experienced early-onset dementia (obvious symptoms appearing before the age of 65), nearly 57 percent of the cases could be attributed to chronic heavy drinking. The World Health Organization defines chronic heavy drinking as four to five (or more) drinks per day for men and three or more drinks per day for women. Researchers note that their findings represent an association between heavy drinking and dementia, but did not show an actual cause-and-effect relationship. However, other studies have suggested that alcohol abuse is a major risk factor for dementia and a shortened lifespan. In the study, the overall majority of people with dementia were women, while nearly two-thirds of all early-onset dementia patients were men. The researchers also noted that alcohol use disorders are associated with other independent risk factors for dementia, including smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression. If you are having more than one or two drinks per day, or are exhibiting behaviors of alcoholism or alcohol abuse, such as hiding your drinking from others, drinking alone, drinking throughout the day, or rationalizing your drinking, talk with your doctor about ways to get sober. Attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous for support and inspiration. If you feel your drinking is causing serious medical problems and that you can’t stop, find a hospital or other medical facility in your community that can help you. Enlist the aid of a close friend or family member to start your path toward sobriety and better health.

Staying Fit May Help Lower Dementia Risks Later in Life

If you’ve been exercising throughout adulthood, or you’re at least getting into shape now, you could be keeping your brain healthy, too. A small study of nearly 200 women in Sweden tracked their cognitive and physical health for 44 years. The average age of the women at the start of the study was 50. The participants’ cardiovascular fitness levels were tested on an exercise bicycle at the beginning of the study, and they were placed in various groups based on their fitness. They were also tested for dementia six times throughout the study. Only 5 percent of the “highly fit” women developed dementia, while 32 percent of the women in the “low fitness” group developed dementia. Among the women who were actually unable to complete the fitness test at the start of the study, 45 percent of them went on to have dementia. Researchers suggest that negative cardiovascular processes that affect brain health late in life may start in midlife. The connection between dementia and fitness or exercise has been studied on many occasions. And while no direct causation has been demonstrated between regular exercise and better brain health, doctors recommend regular physical activity to promote healthy circulation, weight control, and overall optimal health. If you want to improve your level of fitness, consider taking a class at your local health club or community center. If health concerns or injury keep you from exercising the way you used to, look for alternative ways of keeping fit. Arthritis may keep you from jogging these days, but you may be able to stay active by swimming, for example. The study didn’t include men, but researchers suggest that lifelong fitness should benefit people of both sexes. The study was published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology. MMM

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