I grew up in a close-knit family. My childhood was spent learning things from my grandparents and forging close bonds with my sisters, relatives and friends. My paternal grandfather was excellent in mathematics and was in full control of his finances.

My maternal grandfather, on the other hand, was good at fixing things and handy around the house. He would also drive us around and take us to his farm. They both aged well and lived productively.

A few months ago, a younger cousin complained of being tired and being more forgetful. Then, she asked me worriedly, "Do you think I have dementia?" I laughed and replied, "Probably not."

However, her question got me thinking. Are there ways to reduce the risk of dementia​? What did my grandparents do to enable them to maintain their cognitive health till a ripe old age?

Dementia Prevention

Previously, it was believed that nothing could be done to prevent Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia. From studies done on Alzheimer's, it was reported that less than five percent of cases are likely to be due to the influence of genetics, whereby symptoms of dementia tend to develop in one's early 40s or mid-50s. 

In the majority of dementia cases, the onset of dementia begins after 60 years old and genetic influence is diminished. With the latter group, identifying and managing risk factors play a significant role in dementia prevention, or reducing the risk of, dementia.

How to Prevent Dementia

As with any other chronic disease prevention strategy, the first step is to do a lifestyle check. One has to strive to be physically and mentally active. Here are some helpful ways to keep the body and mind healthy, apart from reducing the risk of dementia:

Eat well, in moderation

The key to maintaining physical and cognitive health is to eat healthily and in moderation. Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, calories and salt; aim for sufficient servings of omega 3-rich fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, and antioxidant-rich greens and fruits, at least three to four times a week. Drink at least eight to 10 glasses of water a day and avoid soda and alcoholic beverages. What is good for your heart is also good for your brain.

Move your body

Exercising regularly is proven to have a protective effect on the brain. Simple fun activities like swimming, cycling, dancing and gardening can significantly reduce the risk of mental decline. Walking on a regular basis is a good start — instead of using the escalator, try using the stairs, or alight one bus stop away from your destination and walk the rest of the way. That is a good way to push you to walk at least 10,000 steps per day.

Exercise your brain

Besides physical health, cognitive stimulation also boosts working memory, improves concentration and makes one feel better. Trying out new things, exploring new places and seeking adventures are a form of cognitive challenge. Try to solve puzzles, play memory-related games and Mahjong, or read a new book in your spare time. 

If you are more adventurous, try learning to play musical instruments or enrolling in dance classes. The more you use your brain, the more it will develop and build upon functional reserve. Socialisation is also important. Be active by having different social networks (from work to clubs and religious groups) for continuous and varied interactions.

Lessen the stress

Being stressed at work cannot be avoided. Excessive stress affects concentration and mood, and may affect learning and memory. Aim to keep stress levels and anger in check to minimise their harmful effects. Have sufficient "me time" to relax the mind. Exercising, meditating and praying are some simple ways to relieve stress. Maintaining a good sense of humour, getting enough rest and having good family support are also helpful.

Lead a purpose-driven life

Having a purpose in life drives us to work harder and encourages us to pursue our goals. Having a bucket list and working hard to complete it is a great way to start. It not only helps to achieve a healthy body, but also prepares the brain to work for many more fruitful years.

Get your ZZZs

Sleep is essential. Try to get eight hours a day of good quality sleep. Adequate sleep improves daytime concentration and productivity while lessening irritability and easy fatigability. 

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