June 2, 2022

Reducing your risk of dementia

A Kaiser Permanente physician shares new research and advice for the leading cause of disability in older adults.

Dementia is a leading cause of disability in older adults, and new Kaiser Permanente research shows cataract surgery can lower the risk of senior dementia by 30%. During cataract surgery, a common procedure, the lens of your eye, which becomes cloudy with age, is removed and replaced with an artificial lens.

The study of more than 3,000 participants over age 65 finds that people who had undergone cataract surgery had a nearly 30% lower risk of developing dementia from any cause compared with those who did not have the surgery. This lowered risk persisted for at least a decade after surgery, and this specific treatment was also linked with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The research underscores that people may be getting “higher quality sensory input” after cataract surgery, which might be beneficial to the brain. These results are consistent with the notion that sensory input to the brain is important to brain health.

“With dementia, age is the greatest risk factor,” said Preston Peterson, MD, chief of geriatrics for Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon. “But there are things you can do earlier in your life to help reduce the risks. Keeping your vision and hearing exams up to date — as both hearing and vision deficits are treatable for the most part — can reduce your dementia risk later in life.”

“Dementia can be a very devastating diagnosis,” said Dr. Peterson, “And at the end of the day, it has significant effects on the person, the family, and the caregiver.”

Dr. Peterson shares ways to reduce your risk of dementia, including health screenings, living a healthy lifestyle, and maintaining social interaction.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a syndrome in which cognitive function deteriorates beyond what is expected from typical aging, and it is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people.

Dementia results from a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer's disease or stroke. And while symptoms and onset of dementia don’t typically occur until later in life, you can lower your risk of dementia by making a few healthy lifestyle changes at any age.

What are some risk factors for dementia?

Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of dementia in older adults by almost 50%, so it’s very important to stay socially connected. Sensory loss is also emerging as an important risk factor, because losing your hearing or your vision can lead to isolation.

What are some signs of dementia?

Symptoms of dementia can range from forgetting recent events or people's names to not recognizing friends and family. Patients often have increasing difficulty with communication and a need for assisted care.

What are some healthy lifestyle changes that may lower your risk of dementia?

There are a variety of simple, everyday ways to lower risk.

  • Increase physical activity to improve cardiac health and blood flow to the brain.
  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to keep blood sugar levels in check.
  • Take time to socialize and stay connected.
  • Be mindful of medications that might affect cognition.
  • Keep up with medical appointments and cardiac health.
  • Treat issues related to hearing and vision, and consider cataract surgery, if reccomended by your physician.