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Risk FactorsThe statistics surrounding dementia are staggering: Worldwide, an estimated 47 million people live with this disease, and nearly a trillion dollars is spent annually to care for these individuals, according to Alzheimer's Disease International. In the U.S. specifically, an estimated 4.5 million people have dementia, and that number is expected to grow to about 14 million by 2050.
Dementia refers to a group of symptoms — such as memory loss and problems with communication — that result from changes in the brain. Many diseases and conditions can cause dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
But traditionally, dementia and, more specifically, Alzheimer's have not been thought of as preventable diseases. Given the staggering statistics, however, more money has been spent to identify causes of dementia and ways to possibly help prevent the disease.
And although some risk factors, such as genes, cannot be modified, other small lifestyle changes could help you feed your brain and keep it sharp for years down the line.
Here are nine recent studies that are changing the way we think about how to prevent dementia.
SnoringSlide 2 of 19
SnoringIt turns out that snoring can be harmful to more than your marriage: A May 2017 study published in the journal Sleep found that a sleep condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was linked to a greater Alzheimer's risk.
OSA is a condition in which breathing starts and stops during sleep. These small interruptions can decrease oxygen supply to vital organs and have already been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. The new study, however, shows that these episodes may also be tied to poorer cognitive performance and an increased risk of dementia. This risk has also been seen with molecular studies that show changes in the spinal fluid of patients with OSA, that suggest early changes in substances tied to Alzheimer's, compared with people who didn't have OSA.
But there's good news: The findings suggest that by treating OSA, you may be able to lower your risk.Slide 3 of 19
Drinking diet sodaSlide 4 of 19
Drinking diet sodaWhile it's certainly not surprising that soda can be hazardous to your health, recent research published in April 2017 in the journal Stroke provided strong evidence that diet soda may increase your risk of dementia, perhaps even more than regular soda alone.
The study looked at approximately 3,000 patients over age 45 who self-reported their beverage intake using a questionnaire. After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, physical activity, smoking and education, those who had a more recent and higher intake of artificially sweetened drinks were found to be three times more likely to develop dementia than those who drank less diet soda.
Interestingly, sugar-sweetened beverages, including fruit juice and nondiet sodas, were not associated with dementia risk.
Why would this be the case? Some of it probably is "self-selecting," meaning that people who are already unhealthy might be more likely to choose a diet drink. But the researchers noted that there is growing evidence for a direct effect from the artificial sweeteners themselves. Still, more research is needed to confirm the findings and establish a cause-and-effect relationship.Slide 5 of 19
Low education and hearing lossSlide 6 of 19
Low education and hearing lossThe way you live your life appears have a significant impact on dementia risk: A comprehensive report, published in July 2017 in the journal The Lancet, concluded that one-third of dementia cases could, theoretically, be prevented by lifestyle modification.
Surprisingly, some of the risk factors — such as low education levels, hearing loss in middle age and social isolation — were associated with risks approximately equal to those of smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. The researchers concluded that certain interventions like educating everyone beyond the age of 15 and treating everyone for hearing loss in middle age would reduce the number of dementia cases by 8 and 9 percent, respectively.
Increasing education, for example, may reduce dementia risk by increasing the mind's resilience to brain damage caused by aging, the researchers said. And by treating hearing loss, you can also cut into other risk factors for dementia, including depression and isolation.Slide 7 of 19
Calcium supplementsSlide 8 of 19