When you're young and in good health, you don't spend much time worrying about how you can preserve your memory and prevent illness for the future. However, there are number of "innocent" habits that you didn't realize can lead to dementia, according to experts. Although they might seem like they have no relevance to developing dementia or other symptoms of this disease, some surprising things might actually put you at greater risk for loss of memory and and other brain functions down the line. Knowing what these seemingly innocuous habits are that can cause losses in mental abilities might help you decide if you want to tweak your routine to prevent any future illness.
"All the most common types of dementia are caused by degeneration of the neurons in the brain," Nicole Absar, M.D., medical director of the Senator William and Ellen Proxmire Neurocognitive Clinic at Integrace Copper Ridge, tells Bustle. "However, there are things we do in everyday life – including eating certain foods, taking certain medications, or using drugs or alcohol — that can increase a person’s risk of dementia."
Although some cognitive decline is inevitable with age, keeping up with healthy habits can help lower your risk of getting dementia later in life. Here are seven seemingly innocent things that can actually lead to dementia, according to experts.
1Spending Too Much Time Alone
We all need some alone time, but if you spend too often avoiding social engagements, it can have a negative effect on your wellbeing over time. "Social engagement has been noted to act as a preventative risk factor for the development of cognitive decline and dementia," Daniel Franc, MD, PhD, neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, tells Bustle. So make plans with your friends, and consider saying "yes" a little more often. It can't hurt.
2Bad Sleep Habits
It might seem harmless to stay up late and wake up early, but not getting enough sleep — especially good quality sleep — can increase your risk of dementia. "Not getting enough sleep is not good for brain health," Dr. Gustavo Román, neurologist at Houston Methodist, tells Bustle. "During deep sleep, the brain 'washes off' all the metabolic leftovers of a day’s work, including particles of beta amyloid, the protein that accumulates in Alzheimer’s disease. Feeling tired in the morning after sleeping indicates that your brain has not been properly 'washed.'" If you are having difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, it may be something to address with your doctor.
3Too Much Couch Time
If exercise isn't a large part of your routine, see where you can fit it in a bit more. "Regular physical exercise has been shown to lessen the likelihood that a person will begin to store beta amyloid, a protein that accumulates in Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain," says Dr. Román. "Therefore, a sedentary lifestyle and/or not exercising regularly may not seem that bad, but it can increase the risk of developing dementia."
4Drinking Diet Soft Drinks
Having that diet soda — or any other drink or food with artificial sweetener — can surprisingly increase your risk of dementia. "The ... Framingham study recently published the results of the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort showing that artificially sweetened soft drinks increase the risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer's disease dementia, when compared with people in the cohort who did not consume diet sodas," says Dr. Román. Having a diet soda on occasion won't do too much damage, but when in doubt, consuming in moderation is always a good idea.
5Taking Certain Medications
Research out of The University of East Anglia in the UK found that long-term use of antidepressants, specifically anticholinergic medications, has been linked to a greater risk of dementia. Other medications prescribed for issues such as bladder conditions (for example Tolterodine, Oxybutynin and Solifenacin), and Parkinson’s (for example Procyclidine) have also been linked to a higher risk.
Alcohol, when used in moderation, may not cause significant impairment, but as we get older, it interacts differently with our bodies. "In our older age, even moderate alcohol use can induce toxic effects due to increased comorbidities, including liver, kidney, and brain aging," says Dr. Absar. "Prolonged alcohol abuse in older adults can eventually lead to deficiencies that can cause retro-grade (long-term memory) and antero-grade (short- term memory) amnesia."
7Eating A Lot Of Sugar
A cookie here and there definitely won't kill you, but eat too much sugar in your diet, and your brain health might suffer. "Because sugar is directly involved with the brain, hypo- or hyperglycemia is a major reason for mental changes and delirium," says Dr. Absar. "Chronic hyperglycemia, like diabetes, can induce vascular dementia-like symptoms, as well as increase risk factors for stroke or microvascular disease in the brain which can cause vascular dementia."
These everyday habits might seem innocuous, but they can lead to dementia down the line. If you are concerned, speak to your doctor about your habits to figure out how to live the healthiest lifestyle.