By Joseph Maroon, MC, FACS
March 2020 Multiple surveys have shown there is nothing more frightening for most people as they age than developing dementia, or more specifically, Alzheimer’s disease. The fact is newly diagnosed dementia is becoming more common because the greatest risk of dementia is living longer.
In 2017, US population census reports showed Generation Z, or those born after 1997, made up the largest generation, with about 90.55 million individuals. The next largest group is the Baby Boomer generation, or those born between 1946 and 1964 (ages 74-56). This generation makes up the second largest generation, with 72.56 million individuals.
This wave of Baby Boomers, now having reached 70, are entering the higher risk zone for a variety of different types of age-related dementia. A separate reported in 2017, showed that a 70-year-old male has a 27 % of developing dementia in his remaining lifetime and a 70-year old female’s risk is about 35 % mostly due to a longer average lifespan.
Holding Back the Wave!
Ominous facts, but there is also good news. Unlike the Silent Generation Silent, born between 1928 and 1945, the Baby Boomers and subsequent generations now often practice a much healthier lifestyle. Less smoking, alcohol and more exercise, fruits and vegetables have resulted in a significant drop in cardiovascular diseases and related deaths. Deaths due to heart disease dropped 22% between 1999 and 2011. A report in 2017, however noted an increased of 4% by 2017. This more recent regression was thought to be related the growing obesity crisis in the US and related diseases such as increased diabetes and hypertension. So, what does this tell us about dementia and the possibility of reversing or preventing our risk for it?
Putting What I Practice to the Test
For the last 40 years, as I have discussed many times in the blog, I have committed myself to both researching ways to prevent diseases of aging and instituting scientifically proven techniques to prolong a healthy lifespan. One of the most common tips most people don’t realize is that the healthy activities and diet we do for our heart are also very good for our brain.
Approximately five years ago, I partnered with St Barnabas Health System to impart this tip and others and help seniors of all background to embrace better brain health. The overall program was called the Cognitive Brain Health Program at St Barnabas and it has been widely implemented throughout their organization.
A recent article that appeared in the Trib Live on February 23, 2020, entitled, Apart from the Ordinary’ St. Barnabas caring, growing for more than a century, the author notes:
St. Barnabas Memory Care program (AKA – Cognitive Brain Health Program), created by Dr. Joseph Maroon and the Memory Care team at St. Barnabas, is a revolutionary program for residents and patients who are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. St. Barnabas is working with Dr. Maroon and MyndVR, a virtual reality company that developed technology to help lessen anxiety in patients living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. “We’re seeing extremely positive results with the virtual reality program. It’s really amazing,” Jim Lauteri, from St Barnabas, said.
Exercise IS the Key Factor in Preventing Dementia
At least 11 studies having looked at middle-aged people and the effects of physical exercise on their thinking and memory in later life have found regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 per cent. For Alzheimer’s disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45 per cent. According to the Alzheimer’s Association. although less research has been done with healthy older people, there is some evidence to show older people can also reduce their risk of dementia with regular exercise. In a study of 716 people with an average age of 82 years, people who were in the bottom 10 per cent in terms of amount of daily physical activity were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those in the top 10 per cent.
In their recent publication, Exercise and Physical Activity, the Alzheimer’s Association note that: Exercise and physical activity may bring many benefits for people with dementia as well.
- Improving the health of the heart and blood vessels, which can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease
- Reducing the risk of some types of cancer (particularly breast and colon cancer), stroke and type 2 diabetes
- Improving physical fitness – maintaining strong muscles and flexible joints can help people maintain independence for longer
- Improving the ability to dress, clean, cook and perform other daily activities (as these may be performed more effectively if someone is fitter or more supple)
- Helping to keep bones strong and reducing the risk of osteoporosis (a disease that affects the bones, making them weak and more likely to break)
- Improving cognition – recent studies have shown that exercise may improve memory and slow down mental decline
- Improving sleep
- Improving opportunities for social interaction and reducing the feeling of isolation
- Reducing the risk of falls by improving strength and balance
- Improving confidence
- Increasing self-esteem
- Improving mood.
So what to do? For general aerobic exercise, try walking daily for 20–30 minutes. This can have a profound effect on you healthspan and your brainspan. So start today!