Adapted from an article by Dr Evelyn Lewin GP, Sun-Herald, 30 April, 2023.
Australian GP Ginni Mansberg is keen to keep her brain as sharp as possible for as long as possible and hopefully reduce her risk of dementia.
While there are certain risk factors for dementia that can’t be changed, such as ageing family history and genetics, Mansberg says there’s a common misconception that dementia is an inevitable part of growing older.
People don’t realise that the risk can be drastically reduced.To get the most bang for your buck Mansberg says prevention should start early. Many people start thinking about this when they’re 70 and I’m not saying it’s too late at that point but the dividends of the lifestyle changes you make then are much lower than the dividends that you get from making big changes in your 40s 50s and 60s – but lifestyle improvements can be made at any age.
Those changes range from the obvious such as exercising and eating well to other less obvious measures:
Staying on top of your dental hygiene. Mansberg says research shows that people who go to a dentist for a check-up every 6 months have lower levels of dementia down the track than those who don’t. She says there are two possibilities as to why this might be: first people who are able and willing to pay for dental appointments are more likely to lead a healthier lifestyle; second, it might be more than that, with Mansberg explaining that the bacteria that cause plaque in your teeth have also been found in the plaque located in your brain that causes Alzheimer’s disease. This might be a coincidence but Mansberg says gingivitis (gum disease) is an inflammatory condition that may generally increase inflammation in the body and we know inflammation is a risk for dementia.
Taking care of your hearing is also key with Mansberg explaining that the worse the hearing loss, the higher the risk of dementia. What’s really interesting is that people who take proactive steps and get a hearing aid are less likely to develop dementia.
When contemplating measures to boost your cognitive function, many assume it’s time to break out Sudoku or crosswords. Mansberg claims that socialising can be just as beneficial for your brain if not more. If you think about all the tasks you’re giving your brain when you’re in a room full of people: listening, reading body language, receiving all these messages, interpreting them, thinking of something you can say – all those challenges for your brain increase neuro-plasticity. This is the laying down of new brain cells and new connections between brain cells.
So what does Mansberg do to protect her brain health? She loves socialising, enjoys a well-balanced diet, monitors key health measures such as blood pressure and cholesterol, and takes medication prescribed for this. She aims to stay in the workforce for as long as possible, to keep her mental faculties sharp and makes sleep a priority. Mansberg says that she’s not perfect: she’s falling short of her exercise targets, but refuses to beat herself up over it.
It would be equally foolish for others to aim for perfection when it comes to brain health. She says what we should be saying is “do what you can do”.