Dementia is a progressive decline in mental ability, affecting memory, thinking, judgment, attention span and learning. Although dementia usually develops after the age of 60, it is not a natural part of aging.

The most common type of dementia results from Alzheimer’s disease. The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease remains unclear, but some researchers suspect that genetics may play a role, as this disease seems to run in families and may be influenced by certain gene abnormalities.

The second most common cause of dementia is due to multiple small strokes, often referred to as multi-infarct dementia. Recurrent mini strokes may not cause the same type of weakness and paralysis that large strokes produce, but over time the brain cells will be compromised. An infarct refers to a blockage of blood flow to tissue, causing it injury. As these injuries accumulate in the brain, its normal functioning is affected, hence the term multi-infarct dementia.

Causes and Symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease begins slowly, and gets progressively worse over time. There is a gradual decline in memory, the ability to keep track of time, and the ability to recognize people, places and objects. It becomes more and more difficult to find and use the appropriate words. There are often changes in personality as well. In contrast, multi-infarct dementia has a more predictable, step-like progression.

Recommended Lifestyle Changes

The steps listed above for preventing mild memory loss will also help you establish a reserve against dementia. Some additional preventive measures include the following:
1. Maintain a positive attitude. Studies show that a positive emotional state may help ward off cognitive decline. Social ties, involvement in church and community, and meaningful relationships all seem to be protective.
2. Keep your blood pressure under control. High blood pressure is the strongest risk factor for multi-infarct dementia.
3. Exercise regularly. You can slow memory loss with regular aerobic exercise.
4. Keep your mind active. Combine physical and mental exercise: sing familiar songs while walking, or read the newspaper while riding a stationary exercise bike.

Nutrition and Supplements

Consider a daily low-dose aspirin. Some studies link the use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Try turmeric, a unique spice.
Recent animal research suggests that the yellow spice turmeric, a major ingredient in American mustard and Indian curry, can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This may help explain the unusually low incidence of Alzheimer’s in India, where people consume significant amounts of turmeric as part of the daily diet.

Want to learn more about keeping your memory strong? Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging is a premium subscription Web site that will provide you with simple and effective preventive health information and tools to help you age with grace. Start your free trial today and make every day a healthy one!

Share Dr. Weil's expertise with your friends & family