For many parts of our body, the ‘what, why and how’ to keeping them healthy is all very straightforward and obvious. When it comes to our brains however, it’s perhaps a little less so.

That’s not to say that it’s any less important. While there are some common risk factors associated with dementia, we can go a long way to reducing these risk factors by keeping our brains healthy with a few ‘exercises’ along the way.

Understanding the risk factors

Risk factors for dementia are both lifestyle and medical related, which means that some risk factors are a little easier to manage than others.

Cardiovascular risk factors such as heart disease, mid-life hypertension and brain infarcts (necrotic tissue in the brain resulting from a blockage or narrowing in the arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the brain) all increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Vascular dementia. Smoking has also been identified as a risk factor.

A recent study found that having diabetes increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 65%. However, this risk can be reduced by careful management of diabetes with medications that maintain blood glucose levels within a healthy range.

And while cholesterol is an essential element of brain function, high cholesterol in mid-life and late-life can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Cholesterol lowering drugs on the other hand, may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

A family history of dementia, or an incident of moderate to severe head injury, can both increase the risk of developing dementia.

How to exercise your brain

When it comes to looking after our brain, as with the rest of our body, it’s important that we eat healthy food and keep active. That much is obvious.

Yet, there are other more surprising ways in which we can help to keep our brains healthy, remembering that taking positive steps towards maintaining good brain health today, may reduce your risk of dementia later in life.

Spending time with family and friends is one perfect example. Connecting with others, being social with people whose company you enjoy, and doing things that interest you is a great way to help look after your brain health, creating better brain function and reducing your risk of chronic diseases.

Challenging your brain, and keeping your mind active is also important to keep it functioning well. Challenging the mind with new activities helps to build new brain cells and strengthens connections between them.

Planning ahead

Of course, we’d all prefer not to dwell on the possibility of becoming unwell or developing dementia, but it is important to have plans in place in case we do.

So we first need to have a bit of a think about our future, and think about those aspects of our life that may require instruction if others were required to make decisions on our behalf. This might include issues related to your finances, lifestyle or health care.

It’s then important that we start putting some plans in place so that our choices will be known and can be acted upon in the event that we cannot express these choices ourselves.

It can often be quite helpful to go through this task with someone close, use them as a sounding board for decisions and double check that you’ve got all the important details covered.

Want to know more?

Dementia Australia have some fantastic resources, both for those looking for more information regarding dementia and how to manage it, as well as resources around keeping our brain healthy and reducing risk factors.

You’ll find them online at www.dementia.org.au, or call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.