5 Small Decisions You Can Reach Today to Prevent Dementia Tomorrow

Dementia is preventable much of the time. Start making changes today so that tomorrow you can live healthy, wealthy and wiser.


Melinda Miles-Lindberg

2 years ago | 8 min read

My wife and I making the leap near our home in the Republic of Panama. Photo courtesy of the Author.

When my grandmother MoMo was only 75 years young, her memory failed her. We lived two hours away by car. But neighbors knew we were her closest contact, physically and emotionally.

At work one day, my mom received a call from one of those neighbors reporting that the police had picked up MoMo. She had been wandering in her nightgown with a suitcase. Mom jumped in the car for the trip over the pass from Washington into Idaho.

After retrieving her mother from the police station, Mom rebuked MoMo harshly. She demanded to know what the hell she had been thinking.

Once back at MoMo’s home, my mom opened up the suitcase. It contained no clean underwear, no clothes. In it, MoMo had packed only framed photos of me, my sister, and my brother. My mom softened and cried.

Likely, Mom’s initial rebuke emanated from fear. Then and now, all forms of dementia in ourselves or family and friends are frightening.

Yet, we now know more about the appropriate care for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) the most common form of dementia. We know that a more gentle, understanding approach by the caregiver is preferable. The person suffering from memory loss still feels emotions intensely.

We know these things because AD is by far the most common progressive, neurodegenerative dementia, so it is by far the most studied.

As a further result of that research, we also know that AD is the only one of the top ten killers that have no proven therapy to reverse it.

Once it creeps into your brain it can’t be reversed.

Even worse, as least as far as I’m concerned, women make up ⅔ of their victims.

Therefore, you need to take action today to dramatically reduce your chances of being one of the 6 million men or women. You need to begin today no matter your age.

Why? You may ask. I feel great. I’m only 30, or 40, years old. Truth be told, you are never too young to start.

Now is the time because the cascade into AD is triggered some 20 years or more before clinical symptoms emerge. Most experts agree that AD results from numerous complex interactions: genetic factors, environmental factors, and lifestyle factors. For a few unlucky people, the onset of AD begins in the womb.

There is little you can do about contributors to AD before you were born. But many factors can be changed, can be reversed, now. New studies coming out on almost a daily basis that empower you. They give you a roadmap to follow.

The most common lifestyle changes to make have been written about often. Not only can these changes reduce your chances of AD and other forms of dementia, but they also may reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and stroke.

  • reduction of alcohol
  • smoking cessation
  • eating a healthy diet
  • exercise
  • maintaining a healthy weight

So many of us don’t smoke anymore. Thank God.

But with the other factors, we may not even know where to start.

Dr. Andrew Budson, chief of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology at the Harvard-affiliated VA Boston Healthcare System, comes to our rescue. He makes clear that the onset of AD can be put off years with simple lifestyle changes:

“Even small decisions that we make in our daily life can affect our future risk for dementia.”

Small decisions.

Concrete steps to move towards a healthier, more fulfilling, cognitively active time in retirement can be. Let’s explore a few such minor changes that can have a big impact.

1. Don’t worry, be happy

Cortisol is a killer. It contributes to insulin resistance which contributes to weight gain. And you know what obesity contributes to. Practically all of the big killers in the developed world, including AD. But since the rise of cortisol in our bodies is caused by stress, many think they can’t do anything about it.

You may think I can’t quit my job, or I can’t leave my spouse, I can’t give my pesky little toddlers to their grandmother. So how do I reduce my stress level?

I’m not suggesting you do any of that. Instead, I’m just asking you to laugh.

Yes, laugh.

I read voraciously. Historical fiction. “1619.” Adventures gone bad are my favorite subgenre. I’m not getting laughter in my reading. So I enjoy comedies. Kim’s Convenience. Schitt’s Creek. I used to smirk at the jokes. Hold it in. I don’t anymore. I just let it out and laugh. And if I look stupid to others, well, so be it.

Laughter does more than reduce cortisol levels resulting in weight loss. A new minor habit, adding laughter to your daily routine, chips away at other contributors to dementia:

Physically relaxes the whole body, releasing tension. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

Triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

Pumps blood, improving the functioning of vessels and blood flow.

All of which lowers your risk of developing AD later. So, don’t only read historical fiction and watch dramas. Consider the novel Less. It’s hysterical. Watch Frankie and Grace, or our latest. Or tell corny jokes to a partner or friend.

Make time to just laugh.

How easy is that?

2. Force yourself to breathe

Mindfulness in the form of meditation has long been associated with a balanced metabolism. And a balanced metabolism leads to heart and mind health. But many of us have tried and failed to add that practice into our daily lives. We understand that practicing moment-by-moment awareness leads to a long-term state of relaxation and centering.

Yet, some of us still can’t add it to our daily habits.

I understand. I’ve tried and failed too.

But something else, an alternative, has stuck.

Breathing. Just breathing. I’m not kidding.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor talks about the power of controlling our breath. Much happens to our bodies during a breathwork session. For example, our blood gets a bit more alkaline due to the deeper, continuous breathing. This has the effect of less activity in the part of the brain that works when we are not focused. When we are in the moment our brain quiets. We get access to parts of our unconscious mind that we normally can’t access. This act of centering moves us towards health and wholeness.

You may wonder where to start.

Start here: Try holding your breath, for at first, only 30 seconds. Release, and then take a deep breath and hold it again.

Or engage in an exercise as simple as the Box. Breathe into the count of four, hold for the count of four, breathe out to the count of four, and hold to the count of four. And so on.

Simple. Fast. A bit hard, yes.

But I believe you can do anything for 30 seconds. And if I believe it, maybe you can believe it too.

3. Sing along

After World War II, musicians toured U.S. hospitals and played music for vets struggling to cope with the emotional and physical wounds of war. Gradually, clinicians began to realize that music was helping the boys recover. From this beginning, modern music-assisted treatment emerged.

Now, research has uncovered evidence that listening to music or viewing art activates the brain’s reward systems. The chemicals dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin flood the body triggering sensations of pleasure and positivity.

We see these pleasure centers light up in the brain when we are both creating and beholding the arts or engaged in aesthetic experiences.

That increased brain activity of chemical release as well as the resulting increased blood flow staves off dementia.

How much? Who knows. At least, no one knows yet.

What we do know is that listening to or producing your own music activates the brain.

Still, the power of music remains underrated. Don’t be part of that problem. Activating the brain in different ways gives it the nimbleness to learn, and remember. Music will guide you to that center.

Listen, and sing along too.

4. Become veganish

Two recent medical studies have considered the role of a diet rich in whole-food, plant-based foods in averting AD. Let’s briefly consider each.

The Chicago Study confirmed what has been long suspected by whole food plant-based eaters: A diet rich in foods from the earth dramatically deters AD. A Canada Study focused on immigrants. That is people who look more like us. Diverse, with different yet vibrant backgrounds.

The increase in average daily fruit and vegetable intake was linked to higher verbal fluency scores, with their verbal fluency scores increasing in lockstep with the increase of servings per day.

I know what you are thinking. I love hamburgers with the gals on Friday after work.

That’s okay. Remember life is a continuum. You don’t have to be a vegan or not.

Why not be veganish?

Find a place on that spectrum. Think about the things to eat and not the things not to eat. If you start today increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, tomorrow you will slowly be adding more and more healthful foods without even trying. In time, better food just tastes better.

Trust me. I’ve been there.

How to start being veganish? Once a week when out with friends at an ethnic restaurant surprise them by ordering a vegan meal.

Surprise yourself.

It’s easy to do at most ethnic restaurants. Indian, Japanese, Italian.

It’ll be doubly good because you’ll all get a good laugh out of it the first time you do it.

If eating out isn’t your style, try adding a smoothie to your daily routine.

Every morning, grab the blender and throw together a smoothie. And make it big. A banana, two or three stalks of kale or swiss chard, a tablespoon of flaxseed, another of marjoram, or turmeric. Add in nut milk, or even just water and a bit of leftover coffee.

Add the smoothie. Don’t deprive yourself of foods you love, not at the beginning of your journey.

Just make a small decision: to add a colorful, nutrition-packed smoothie every morning. Or to order vegan while eating out once a week.

Or do both. Your brain will love you for it.

5. Move along

Move your body that is, not your home to the countryside.

Old news? Not really.

A recent medical study has found that only moderate or even mild movement prevents dementia. Combining the results of 11 studies shows that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 percent. For Alzheimer’s disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45 percent.

The good news for those of you who prefer being glued to your chair is that just a casual walk with friends was found to dramatically reduce your chances of becoming a victim of dementia.

So, next time you take the stairs opting out of waiting for an elevator or going shopping in a mall instead of ordering online, know that you are contributing to your goal of a Dementia Free Old Age.

Let’s take action. You’re now equipped to make five minor changes that can have a major impact: Don’t worry, be happy — breathe — sing along — become veganish— move along.

Make the life you want tomorrow by reaching these small decisions today.

If you like what you read here, please buy me a “ko-fi” by clicking here: Aaah, thanks!


Created by

Melinda Miles-Lindberg

At the end of the day, what do you want your obituary to say? It's not too late to change it.







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