One Surprisingly Easy Intervention for Dementia
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
At this point, 1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Anyone who has lost someone close to them to dementia, degree by degree until they are truly all gone, has witnessed something profoundly heartbreaking.
Unfortunately, there has not been very encouraging news in the mission to find an effective drug to intervene. A great deal of energy has gone into this angle to no great effect, with discouraging enough results for some researchers to think differently about where to set their sights. To that end, in 2017 the Lancet Commission spearheaded a “modifiable risk factor movement” to determine if good non-drug solutions could be found. The Commission was able to identify nine modifiable risk factors which accounted for much of the dementia around the globe:
The first nine
High blood pressure, lower education levels, impaired hearing, smoking, obesity, depression,
physical inactivity, diabetes and low levels of social contact
With those behavioral interventions, researchers estimate that 62% of current cases could have been prevented.
By 2020 three more factors joined the list:
The next three
Excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injuries and air pollution
Intervention of those factors alone could theoretically prevent about 40% of worldwide dementia cases.
And now an additional risk factor has been identified
with the study results recently published in JAMA Neurology. The exciting news? This one could arguably be one of the easiest risk factors to modify. Are you ready?
The latest and perhaps the luckiest
With 80 – 90% of vision impairment and blindness being avoidable through early detection and treatment, getting regular eye exams could be the low-hanging fruit of a dementia preventative lifestyle.
If you are wondering what hearing loss and vision impairment have to do with dementia, it’s how these senses stimulate our brains and what happens when we don’t get adequate stimulation. Without that stimulation, “there will be a dying out of neurons, a rearrangement of the brain,” explained Dr. Rojas, a co-author of an accompanying editorial in JAMA Neurology
Northern Light Health has an active, nationally known research program in Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, headed up by Dr. Cliff Singer, Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry for Acadia Hospital. Commenting on the newly identified risk factor, Dr. Singer said, “The addition of vision impairment to the list of modifiable risk factors for dementia is an interesting new finding, consistent with what we know about the effects of hearing loss and social isolation. It’s probably not the sensory loss itself that increases risk, but the isolation. People who are blind or deaf from birth or an early age don’t seem to be at higher risk, but those whose sensory loss comes on later in life and results in withdrawal from a socially active, intellectually challenging life habits are. So yes, close attention to eye health and hearing loss are all important to staying socially engaged to maintain brain health over time.”
Getting regular eye exams…it’s not a no-brainer; it’s a brain retainer. In addition to getting your eyes examined, if you are interested in participating in Alzheimer’s disease research and healthy brain aging, go to www.northernlighthealth.org/MAINAH
and enroll in Northern Light’s research and healthy brain aging registry.
It’s astonishing how much is becoming understood about the intersection between social engagement and health. Loneliness and health. Isolation and health. Now we’re able to track dementia back to key factors which include low social engagement since social engagement and sensory information stimulates the brain and we’re able to track declining social engagement back to key factors including hearing loss and vision impairment since it’s hard to interact when you can’t hear to follow a conversation or see to know what everyone else is looking at. The interconnection of it all keeps adding up to the whole person, the foot bone connected to the heel bone, the gone bone connected to the ankle bone…
July is Social Awareness Month. To being whole and healthy and keeping our friends and our wits about us,
Sources: Advisory Board, New York Times and the Alzheimer’s Association