Aging, to many people, means wrinkles and gray hair, age spots, extra pounds and sagging skin. “Aging gracefully” often translates as “looking young.” Annual doctor visits include checking blood, heart, reflexes and medications. Yet, the only time a second thought is given to our brains is when we experience memory problems. It goes without saying that aging gracefully does NOT include developing dementia!
Statistics show there is good reason to focus on brain health. Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for about 70% of all dementia, and 5.8 million people have received that diagnosis in the US alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, by age 65, Americans have a 10-14% chance of developing Alzheimer’s Disease (rates vary by demographics), and by age 85, that number increases to almost 35% (National Institute on Aging). Take into account other types of dementia and the numbers are even higher.
The good news is that dementia is NOT a natural part of aging—it has specific causes that can be addressed, treated and reversed, sometimes completely. Armed with the proper knowledge and determination, every individual can take action to prevent and address memory loss.
The brain, like all organs, can be monitored and checked over the course of our lives. A variety of diagnostics, from eye exams to inflammation markers in the blood, can be used to identify an underlying issue. Inflammation in the body very often translates to inflammation in the brain, years before signs of memory loss become apparent.
Dementia has roots that can be traced back decades earlier, and in some cases, to childhood. Because many of the causes of memory loss are known (see table), the origination of lifestyle behaviors and environmental effects can now be identified.
10 Causes of Dementia1
Nutritional imbalances and deficiencies
Toxins in food, water, air, and work/home environment
Effects of prescription medications
Mercury and other heavy metal toxicity
Hormonal imbalances (T3 thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, and others)
Inadequate physical activity, mental stimulation and social interaction
Stress, especially from life changes and how we process information
Sleep and breathing problems
Physical and emotional trauma
Here are just a few examples of how these causes of memory loss develop over time.
Nutrition plays a key role in the health of the body and the brain. Studies show that a Mediterranean diet, comprised of lean meats and fish, healthy fats such as nuts and olive oils, fresh fruits and vegetables, and little (if any) processed foods, help keep the brain functioning well into old age2. A lifetime of poor eating, vitamin deficiencies and bad food habits, can lead to memory loss. Making changes to diet and increasing exercise can turn back the clock and restore the body, as well as the mind.
Many cavities have “silver” fillings made of 50% mercury, a potent neurotoxin. Large fish like tuna and swordfish also contain mercury. Toxins get stored in our tissues, build up, and ultimately cross the blood-brain barrier. Symptoms of mercury toxicity are practically identical to Alzheimer’s Disease. Silver mercury fillings must be removed safely by a specially-trained dentist.
Due to poor diet and environmental toxins, many children develop breathing problems. These children often breathe through their mouths and snore, indicating a narrowed airway. A lifetime of poor breathing habits can lead to sleep apnea, which causes repeated awakenings at night. This interrupted sleep pattern prevents the brain from getting enough oxygen and detoxifying at night. For those with an issue, consult a dentist who specializes in sleep issues or visit a sleep center.
Environmental toxins, lifestyle choices choices, technology and stress (among others) affect our health in ways never before imagined. Aging gracefully with our bodies AND minds intact means understanding that health happens from the inside out, and over the course of a lifetime. Even people with a family predisposition to dementia can prevent or delay the onset of symptoms. Remember, graceful aging is not only a gift to ourselves, it’s a gift to our loved ones.