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What Helps Prevent Dementia? Try Eating Right and Exercise

New guidelines for preventing dementia focus on keeping the whole body healthy as a way to prevent mental decline

What to Know

  • New World Health Organization guidelines for preventing dementia focus on keeping the whole body healthy as a way to prevent mental decline.
  • 50 million people worldwide have dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type, WHO says there are 10 million new cases each year.
  • Dementia is currently incurable, but studies show a variety of things can affect the odds of developing it.

If you want to save your brain, focus on keeping the rest of your body well with exercise and healthy habits, new guidelines for preventing dementia advise.

Although age is the top risk factor, the World Health Organization says, "dementia is not a natural or inevitable consequence of aging."

Diet, Exercise Helps Dallas Man's Grandmother

"It's probably the most emotional thing that I can think of that has ever happened to me in my life," said Daniel Waite, of Dallas, describing watching his 89-year-old grandmother succumb to dementia. "She couldn't recognize anyone. She was calling out to dead people. She was saying, 'I want to die. I want to die,' and saying all these crazy and insane stuff that's not her."

Instead of watching the neurodegenerative condition take hold, he did research into what lifestyle changes he could make for her -- he changed what she ate and exercised with her almost every day. And in one year, he said his grandmother's condition improved to the point that she recognizes him once again.

"It's drastic if you compare it to day one in the hospital," he said. "It's night and day."

New WHO's guidelines for preventing dementia focus on keeping the whole body healthy as a way to prevent mental decline.

Much of the WHO's advice is common sense, and echoes what the U.S. National Institute on Aging said. That includes getting enough exercise; treating other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol; having an active social life, and avoiding or curbing harmful habits such as smoking, overeating and drinking too much alcohol. Evidence is weak that some of these help preserve thinking skills, but they're known to aid general health, the WHO said.

"Exercise keeps the rest of your body health, so we know if you're keeping your heart healthy, you're not developing diabetes because you're not obese, because you exercise you're controlling blood pressure because you exercise," said Dr. Mary Quiceno a neurologist with the Alzheimer's Association. "All those things are going to feed into a healthier brain."

Eating well, and possibly following a Mediterranean-style diet, may help prevent dementia, the WHO guidelines said.

Quiceno said current research is looking into whether lifestyle changes can reverse dementia, but for now, the guidelines bolster what she's been telling her patients.

"Going to the doctor is helpful, it's important, but what's most important to your health is what you want to do for yourself," she said.

Waite felt so convinced by his grandmother's progress, he launched a new company called Live Well Organix to help others learn how to change this lifestyle too.

"After going through the experience and seeing the change in her, it made me feel like I found my calling as a person, which is to help people with dementia and people who are trying to live a better life." Waite said.

WHO Against Vitamins to Battle Dementia

In the new guidelines, the WHO takes a firm stance against Vitamin B or E pills, fish oil or multi-complex supplements that are promoted for brain health because there's strong research showing they don't work.

"There is currently no evidence to show that taking these supplements actually reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and in fact, we know that in high doses these can be harmful," said the WHO's Dr. Neerja Chowdhary.

"People should be looking for these nutrients through food ... not through supplements," Carrillo agreed.

The WHO also did not endorse games and other activities aimed at boosting thinking skills. These can be considered for people with normal capacities or mild impairment, but there's low to very low evidence of benefit.

Free Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Loss Seminar

You can learn more about the guidelines and reducing your risk of dementia at a free seminar Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Tarrant County Northeast Courthouse Community Room at 645 Grapevine Highway in Hurst. For information call 800-272-3900.

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MORE: Alzheimer's Organization of North Central Texas 

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