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Dr. Zorba Paster: Taking steps to prevent dementia

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 20, 2021

By Dr. Zorba Paster For The Spokesman-Review

I seem to write a lot about dementia. The older I get, the more I’m interested in all sorts of brain loss. My mom had dementia – probably Alzheimer’s disease, although as a one- to two-pack-a-day smoker, it could have been small strokes. My mother-in-law developed dementia; she, too, was a smoker. And my father-in-law developed dementia from a stroke.

The older we get, the more likely we are to develop dementia. And if we’re smart, then we’ll look at all sorts of ways to prevent this scourge of age. When I was in my 20s, I thought old age was 65. Now that I’m 74, I think of old age as 75. So, the age is a number that changes, frankly, with age. The fact is the older you get, the higher the risk of dementia.

Let’s review some of the things we know about this devastating disease. Dementia includes all sorts of memory loss – past memory and immediate memory with or without loss of executive function and the ability to make a decision and take action.

My mom couldn’t remember our grandchildren, but she also couldn’t make change at the store. Whether it was Alzheimer’s or small strokes, we’ll never know. MRIs had not been invented when she died in 1981, and CTs were just in their infancy.

To prevent dementia, start with a good diet and regular exercise. I know, I know, I talk about it all the time. You’re probably sick of hearing about it, but when you realize that nearly half of you don’t eat five servings of fruits and veggies a day, then you realize that we’re far away from where we should be.

So, five servings a day for life. The more colorful the fruits and veggies, the more micro nutrients and vitamins. Variety is key here – and freshness. If it’s not fresh, then go for frozen. Believe it or not, some frozen veggies are more chock full of good stuff than stale fresh. A Mediterranean diet is great – if you’re not sure what it is, Google it.

Vitamins: I don’t take them. Vitamin E – failed to show benefit. The same is true of Beta Carotene, vitamin C and B vitamins. Is vitamin D worthwhile? The question is still up in the air. I take D3 – 2000 u daily, and that’s all.

Your vitamins should come from your food not from some manufacturer. If it says “Mother Nature” and it’s in a capsule, it ain’t Mother Nature. And toss the fish oil for eating good old-fashioned fish. Two servings a week is your goal.

Exercise: Do it. A daily walk. A workout three days a week. Hitting at least 4,500 steps a day – 10,000 is good but not necessary. As the Nike ad goes, just do it. The best exercise is the exercise that you do.

Next – control your cholesterol, with a statin if necessary. It’s been shown that statins reduce dementia caused by cardiovascular disease dramatically. No other drug class from Niacin to Fibrates works. They may reduce cholesterol, but there is no good proof they touch dementia.

Next – control blood pressure and blood sugar either by lifestyle or meds. We’ve reduced stroke by nearly 75% since I first started medicine by controlling blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Getting these under control counts.

And don’t forget to nix the toxins – no smoking, no vaping, no more than two drinks a day, on average. They count a lot.

Hearing: A recent study in the Lancet pointed out that unamplified hearing appears to be a major risk factor in memory loss. When you can’t hear, you withdraw from life. You often stop interacting. And we don’t just learn with our eyes; we also learn through our ears.

So, if you need a hearing aid, get one. Put it on in the day, every day, and take it off at night. Don’t just use it when you go out – the benefit is not just hearing a friendly conversation at lunch but also hearing the birds in spring.

Make some changes today, and your health will improve tomorrow. Stay well.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician and host of the public radio program “Zorba Paster on Your Health.” He can be reached at askzorba@doctorzorba.com.

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