International Women's Day - Risk Reduction Strategies

Published: Mar 07, 2021

International Women’s Day celebrates and acknowledges achievements women have made. It seeks to end gender inequality, leaving women with equal opportunities and rights as men. International Women’s Day also seeks to empower women to make informed decisions about their health. Women now have more control over their health than ever before, but despite this there is still a disproportionate number of women impacted by dementia than men. Lifetime risk for women developing Alzheimer's disease, at the age of 65 years is 12 per cent, while for men it is only 6.3 per cent, (Framingham heart study). Women not only account for more of the population living with a dementia diagnosis, but they are also impacted by dementia the most. Women account for 70 per cent of family caregivers and 80 per cent of professional caregivers.

Although there are more women living with a dementia diagnosis than men, there are several risk reduction strategies that can be adopted to live an overall healthy lifestyle and reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Exercise

Moderate aerobic exercise, a minimum of 30 - 45 minutes five days a week, is recommended for overall health and a reduction in risk for dementia. Aerobic exercise benefits the brain, controls cardiovascular risk factors, improves circulation to the brain, reduces depression, promotes sleep and allows for new nerve cells to grow in critical regions of the brain, which are responsible for memory, learning and decision making. Exercise also helps by slowing amyloid accumulation in the brain; therefore, slowing cognitive decline, even in those who have a strong family history of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Women who have cardiovascular fitness in midlife have a 90 per cent lowered risk of developing dementia than women who do not have cardiovascular fitness (Helena, Horder et al., 2018).  

How do you know you’ve achieved an appropriate level of exercise? It should be difficult to laugh and joke.

Cognitive Stimulation 

Cognitive stimulation is paramount to maintain brain health. Higher education and more complex occupations help to reduce the risk of dementia. However, what protects us the most is maintaining high levels of intellectual activity throughout life, as it is associated with better executive function, delay of symptoms, reduction in brain amyloid and reduction in age-related shrinking of the brain.

Any task that challenges your brain is beneficial. Learn a new skill, hobby or language. Play games including chess or Scrabble to keep your mind engaged and sharp.

Women who have maintained high levels of intellectual activity throughout life have been found to have better cognitive function in later years.

Diet

Diet plays an integral role in our overall health including our brain health. Two recognized diets to follow are the Mediterranean diet and the MIND Diet. In following the Mediterranean diet, one must fully adhere in order to benefit from a lowered risk by 55 per cent. If you do not completely adhere to the diet, then there is no brain health benefit.

The MIND diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, but it also incorporates berries, green leafy vegetables, beans and poultry. In adhering to the MIND diet completely, one can benefit from a lowered risk of 53 per cent; however, if one only moderately adheres, they can still benefit from a lowered risk of 35 per cent.

Women who have followed a Mediterranean diet during most of their adult life, have been found to have better cognition in late life, (CARDIA study).

Alcohol + Smoking  

Alcohol is absorbed faster in women in comparison to men. Women also experience brain shrinkage in relation to alcohol consumption earlier than men; therefore, it is important to be mindful of alcohol consumption.

Smoking has a number of negative impacts, and it has been found that 14 per cent of dementia cases worldwide is smoking-related. More women are smoking; therefore, leading to an increase of women who smoke and live with a dementia diagnosis. 

Other

Stress management is important in reducing the risk of dementia. Daily activities such as yoga, tai-chi, meditation, music, art or pets can help to reduce stress. Any mindful activity that gives your brain a break from stressful circumstances is beneficial in stress management. It is also important to engage in positive thinking and have a more optimistic approach to life. Healthy sleep patterns are important in lowering the risk of dementia because the brain tries to get rid toxins while we are in a deep sleep.  

Talking about women’s health is an important first step in supporting women. In talking about risks that women face, they can be better prepared to identify and adopt strategies to reduce their risk of dementia.

If you have any questions about your individual risk, reach out to your family doctor. Your family doctor can help assess your individual risk and develop an individualized plan to mitigate your overall risk.

If you have any questions about dementia, reach out to the Alzheimer Society of Calgary.

Phone: 403-290-0110
Email: info@alzheimercalgary.ca