Dementia is a serious mental disorder that affects more than 5.4 million Americans. Sadly, in addition to aging, physical conditions like hair loss and obesity could also be related to this debilitating disease.
According to a new study, lack of exercise could also have a direct relation to dementia.
“Being inactive may completely negate the protective effects of a healthy set of genes,” said Jennifer Heisz, an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University and a lead researcher on a new Canadian study.
The five-year study looked at more than 1,600 adults aged 65 and older and found that individuals who spend too much time on the couch have the same risk of developing dementia as those genetically predisposed to the condition. The predisposed people carry the apolipoprotein (APOE) gene mutation, which significantly increases the chance of developing dementia later in life. In fact, it’s the strongest genetic risk factor for dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The type of exercise needed to fight off dementia isn’t known; however, the study suggests that even rudimentary physical activity could help, as the physically active study participants reported walking at least three times a week.
“Which means you don’t have to train like an Olympian to get the brain health benefits of being physically active,” Heisz added.
Problems with hair loss are often related to dementia as well, but it’s important to keep in mind that hair loss doesn’t always lead to mental health issues. Hair loss is becoming more and more common in younger people, who are far from showing any signs of dementia and other mental health-related problems. Roughly 40% of men experience noticeable hair loss before they turn 35 years old.
Unfortunately for the prematurely hairless, eHealthMe does report that hair loss is commonly found among people with dementia. The most common factors of dementia patients who also experience hair loss are being female, being over the age of 60, and having high cholesterol levels.
The increasing number of Americans with dementia has also taken a toll on the nation’s health care system. Pharmacy Times reports people with dementia — along with younger men, people with lower income, and people of color — are more likely to seek emergency care for non-emergency conditions like common eye problems.
A University of Michigan study looked at roughly 377,000 eye-related emergency room visits over a 14-year period and found that nearly 86,500 of those visits were for issues that did not require emergency treatment.
Of course, people who are experiencing serious dementia symptoms should consult a medical professional. In addition to primary care physicians, patients can get medical attention at urgent care clinics. About 60% of urgent care centers have wait times less than 15 minutes and 65% have an on-site physician at all times. Instead, many older Americans with dementia end up in emergency rooms.
To limit the risks of dementia, there are steps young people can take. Monitoring physical activity, keeping track of potential symptoms, and seeking professional medical attention are all important aspects of fighting off dementia.
“I tell all my patients that if they leave with one, and only one, piece of advice,” said Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Center for Cognitive Health ant Mount Sinai Hospital, “one thing that they can do to reduce their risk of dementia or slow the progression of dementia is to exercise.”