Age Wise

Dementia Starts Sooner Than You Think

But it’s never too late (nor too soon) to take these preventive steps

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
6 min readJul 28, 2021

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Image courtesy of the American Heart Association

Long before you routinely forget where you left the keys or why you walked into a room, the wheels of cognitive decline could be turning in your brain, setting you on a course to eventual dementia.

But dementia is not inevitable, experts say.

Several new and recent studies strengthen the case for prevention strategies that you can employ starting right now — no matter how old you are — to improve your chances of staying sharp down the road.

“The underlying process related to cognitive decline starts in early adult life, and probably even earlier,” Walter Willett, MD, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, tells me. “Thus I don’t think we can start too soon.”

Before you know it

For reasons still somewhat mysterious, brain cells sometimes stop working, and connections between brain centers weaken, leading to poorer memory and thinking ability at the root of most forms of dementia. (One particular type, vascular dementia, is brought on by a stroke or other event that restricts blood flow to the brain.)

In any case, dementia is not considered a normal part of aging. Proof exists in so-called superagers I recently wrote about — people in their sixties and older whose brains inexplicably look and function just like people in their twenties.

Yet for other people, the seeds of dementia can sprout frighteningly early in life.

Signs of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, typically start to appear in a person’s mid-sixties, if they show up at all. More than 6.2 million Americans over 65 deal with Alzheimer’s as do more than 50 million people globally. But the gradual accumulation of damage in the brain is thought to begin 10 years or more before symptoms appear.

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB