By: Kathy

Dementia ~ Delaying is onset slowing its progression.

You’ve watched a few family members – including your mother – struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.  And because you’ve read that genetic factors put you at increased risk, you want to do everything possible to decrease your chances of developing it.

Studies have identified many factors that may slow or prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.  Managing other health conditions and staying mentally and socially active may play major roles in delaying the onset.  Some drugs are also being explored as a means of slowing the progression of mental decline.

Dementia defined.

Dementia is the loss of intellectual and social abilities that’s severe enough to interfere with daily functioning.  Dementia affects the ability to think, speak, reason, remember and move.  The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.  With this condition, healthy brain tissue degenerates, causing a steady decline in memory and mental abilities.

Besides Alzheimer’s, many ohter types of dementia exist.  As these conditions progress, they often become debilitating.  Fortunately, treatments have been developed in recent years to slow mental decline.

While these disorders often are increasingly common with age, they aren’t inevitable.  In recent years, researchers have identified some steps you can take that may help keep dementia at bay.  At the same time, many other potential delaying factors are being studied.

Manage related conditions.

Researchers have found increasing evidence that the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke may also predispose people to dementia.  Controlling these risk factors – namely diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and obesity – is a significant step you can take that may delay Alzheimer’s disease.  Cholesterol-lowering medications known a statins haven’t been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s. but they’re being tested to see if they might slow or delay the disease.

Vascular dementia, another common form of dementia, results from damage related to small and large blood vessel disease.  By controlling cardiovascular risk factors, you may prevent the blockages and damage to the blood vessels to your brain that can lead to this condition.

Managing depression can also play a role in the effects of dementia.  Like dementia, depression can cause difficulty in remembering, thinking clearly and concentrating.  Sometimes, depression occurs in conjunction with dementia.  In those cases, emotional and intellectual deterioration can be especially severe.  If this is the case, treating the depression can reduce mental impairment.  While it may not stop dementia from progressing, it could minimize its impact.

Use your mind.

Studies have found an association between frequent participation in intellectually stimulating activities and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.  Some researchers believe that lifelong mental exercise and learning may promote the growth of additional synapses in your brain, therefore delaying dementia.

A number of activities can help keep your mind sharp.  Try reading, writing stories or playing games such as cards, checkers or crossword puzzles.  You might also find challenge in trying a new hobby such as photography or woodworking or in learning to use a computer.

Socialization plays a similar role.  Spending time with friends and family, taking community education classes, volunteering or joining an organization are just a few ways to do so.  You might also consider group activities such as bowling, golfing or a walking group. These activities help stimulate your memory, concentration and mental processing, keeping those areas of your brain more active.


Other studies have looked at medications that might delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  Recently, researchers identified a drug that may buy valuable time for people with the memory related variety of mild cognitive impairment, a transition stage between the forgetfulness of narmal aging and the more serious problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  The study found that the drug donepezil (Aricept) helped reduce the risk of progression of MCI to Alzheimer’s for up to 18 months.

Other studies are testing the Alzheimers’ drugs galantamine (Reminyl) and rivastigmine (Exelon) to see if they may work in a similar way.  However, results of these studies aren’t yet available.

You may have read or heard about numerous other ways to delay dementia.  Possibilities under investigation include physical activity and using vitamins to reduce homocysteine levels.

However, most of the data is still inconclusive.  Further trials are needed to explore the various options that may delay dementia.

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