Lower your risk of dementia by making these brain-healthy moves

DES MOINES — We’re 17 days into the new year now and while some Iowans resolved to lose weight, save money or travel more, certain resolutions can have the critical, long-term benefit of reducing your risk of developing dementia.

Lauren Livingston, spokeswoman for the Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, says the list starts with having your blood pressure checked by a medical professional — and taking action if it’s too high.

“People who have a blood pressure with that top number of 120 versus 140 were almost 20% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, which is a stage before you develop Alzheimer’s disease,” Livingston says. “That goes in line with what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain.”

In addition to having your BP checked, Livingston suggests you take a hearing test. In adults over the age of 60, studies find 65-percent of them have hearing loss, but many of them decide -not- to get hearing aids.

“People who are at higher risk for cognitive decline, if they did wear a hearing aid, they were able to cut their cognitive decline in half,” Livingston says, “and that’s likely due to just being able to hear and understand and process information more than if they weren’t wearing a hearing aid, just to keep themselves able to engage in conversations.”

Alzheimer’s disease ranks second only behind cancer as the diagnosis people most fear as they age, but she says with lifestyle changes, Iowans have the ability to lower the risks. Another big help is keeping up with your shots.

“Getting an annual flu vaccine and pneumonia vaccine was associated with a 40% decrease in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease over the next four years,” Livingston says. “Every year that you’re getting one of those vaccines, you are reducing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

In people who were isolated during the pandemic, Livingston says they saw a huge decrease in cognitive health and faster progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia. She says it’s very important to stay social.

“Get together with your friends, go to family get togethers,” Livingston says. “Even if you’re noticing some changes in your cognitive health, if you’re forgetting things and are feeling embarrassed, it’s still really important to get together and stay social. That will keep your mind more active and help your cognitive health.”

There’s no certain way to prevent Alzheimer’s, but Livingston says there is much to be gained by living a healthy lifestyle and adopting brain healthy habits.

It’s estimated there are 66,000 Iowans living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, and another 98,000 Iowans are their caregivers. A 2023 report says the average Alzheimer’s prevalence rate in Iowans age 65 and older is 11-percent.