It’s Never Too Late (Or Too Early) To Prevent Dementia

May 30, 2024

It’s Never Too Late (Or Too Early) To Prevent Dementia

Our professionals at Aviv Older Adult Services work every day to empower people as they navigate the challenges of aging. With June being Alzheimer’s and Brain Health Awareness Month, we wanted to highlight the preventative measures that can lead to a significant reduction in symptoms of cognitive decline-up to 40%!

“In the past, there wasn’t much hope when someone received a diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment or dementia,” says Debbi Dooley, RN, MS, LPC. Debbi has been one of our dedicated Geriatric Care Managers (GCM) with Aviv for over 16 years. “Now, with advances in medical treatment and an understanding of the benefits of modifiable risk factors, we know there’s a lot you can do to advocate for yourself and slow the progression of the disease,” said Debbi. “There’s also great hope that people diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment will never have that develop into full-blown dementia.”

The gold standard of dementia research, the Lancet Commission, has identified 12 modifiable risk factors that contribute to cognitive decline. When these factors are addressed, development and/or progression of the disease may be slowed by an incredible 40%: Physical Inactivity, Smoking, Excessive alcohol consumption, Air pollution, Head injury, Infrequent social contact, Less education, Obesity, Hypertension, Diabetes, Depression, and Hearing impairment. Debbi also notes that prioritizing quality sleep, while not included on the Lancet list, is very important for cognition.

Implementing Changes

Over half of the modifiable risk factors, like hypertension and diabetes, can be improved with diet and exercise. “I recommend the MIND diet, which is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet for hypertension, and to avoid alcohol and smoking,” says Debbi. She cautions against extremes, though, and recommends still making space for the foods you love: “If someone is trying to eat better but they love smoked brisket, I won’t tell them to never eat red meat again; I’ll suggest cutting back over time, but not entirely eliminating,” she says.

Whatever changes you make, Debbi suggests taking an accessible approach, and doing so with a partner. Making radical changes can be overwhelming and cause people to quit; taking small, sustainable steps will add up over time. “If you can walk twice a week, start there, because if it feels like something you can do, then you’ll succeed, and that will feel empowering,” she says.

With social isolation and depression both named as modifiable risk factors, having support makes all the difference. Help is “critical,” says Debbi, and can come from a friend, spouse, child, GCM or Case Manager. “We all need people to help us meet our goals, because lifestyle changes are tough, particularly if you have cognitive challenges because it can be hard to conceptualize change. This is part of why I love our Brain Health Boot Camp so much- it’s broken down into accessible goals, with a room full of people doing it alongside you.”

“As GCMs, we work with elders and their families to create a plan that builds a care team and helps them find the incentive they need to become active participants in their health and protect their cognition,” says Debbi. “Knowing that there are actions they can take to slow the progression of the disease can be really empowering.”

Start Now

Debbi reminds us that because it’s harder to change as you get older, “starting healthy habits as a young adult in your 30’s and 40’s is great for prevention. You can’t choose what your education was in your early life, and you can’t choose who your parents are and what genetic risk factors you may have inherited. However, there are many, many things you can choose to make your brain and your heart as healthy as possible, and that’s very exciting.”

To learn more about working with a Geriatric Care Manager, Brain Health Boot Camp, or any of our Aviv Older Adult Services, contact Agewell Atlanta at 866-243-9355 or