By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Many of us are now spending more time at home. We sit at home for longer periods of time. We are socially isolated. Some of us are depressed about the having to do this.

Those may sound like events beyond our control. To some degree they are. However, all three of them are risk factors for developing dementia.

We know that there are some risk factors for dementia that cannot be controlled. Age is the best example of that. Genetic predisposition for the disease is a second example.

A third item can be controlled. However, by the time we get to the age for dementia, it is too late. That item is a lower level of education.

For that reason, we should take steps to control some of the things that can lessen the likelihood of dementia.

Those things include eating a healthy and balanced diet. We need to increase fiber in the diet. We need to stay away from saturated fats. We need to limit salt use. We need to limit sugar intake.

They include maintaining a healthy weight. Overweight individuals are more likely to develop hypertension. They are more likely to develop diabetes.

Both of these conditions affect the blood vessels in the brain. They can lead to what is called vascular dementia as those blood vessels have decreased flow.

They include keeping alcohol intake at a healthy level. That means you need to keep alcoholic drinks to less than 14 per week. It means you need to have alcohol free days during the week.

They include not smoking. Smoking can also affect the blood vessels in your brain.

Depression has an interesting relation to dementia. Being depressed is not as big a risk factor as having depression and not getting it treated.

Exercise is very important. Everyone that is physically capable should exercise. The recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. That averages out to a little more than 20 minutes per day. It needs to be exercise itself.

A recent study looked at individuals who worked in high physically demanding jobs. They found that the jobs did not protect the individuals as much as exercise itself did.

Strengthening exercises are all important. These should be done about twice a week. Yoga falls into this category. Hobbies like gardening fall into this category.

The area of doing brain games to help prevent dementia is still not well studied. Logic would tell you that it should help.

We do not have strong scientific evidence to support that. However, there is certainly no harm in adding this to your daily regimen.

There are things that we are doing more frequently because of COVID-19. Some of those can affect development of dementia.

The good news is that these activities are somewhat temporary in nature. Therefore, they are unlikely to have long-term effects in developing dementia.

However, there is no reason that we cannot plan to change our activities to healthier ones as we get through the pandemic.