Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Dual protection

You've heard this list before: better diet, more exercise, less depression, good social support, and better control of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. But this time it is coming from a pair of brain specialists promoting promising ways to prevent dementia.

Dementia (meaning "deprived of mind") is a catch-all term that covers a decline in memory, reasoning, thinking, and other mental functions. It's a big problem in the United States and other developed countries. More than three million Americans (about one in seven of those over age 71) now have dementia, and this number will swell to nearly 10 million by 2050. The two leading causes are Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, which is essentially atherosclerosis of the brain's arteries.

6 steps for preventing dementia

  • Control cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, weight, and smoking

  • Keep your mind active with education, volunteering, hobbies, games

  • Exercise

  • Spend time with family and friends

  • Eat heart-healthy foods, including those rich in polyunsaturated fats (like oily fish, whole grains, and nuts) and antioxidants (fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea)

  • Identify and treat depression

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