13 common everyday habits 'increase your risk of dementia'

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Everyday habits could contribute to dementia later in life -Credit:Getty

If you're partial to a cup of coffee, enjoy binge-watching your favourite series on Netflix, or love the atmosphere at live concerts, you might want to pay attention to recent findings that suggest these activities could be putting you at a higher risk of dementia.

Researchers are sounding the alarm over everyday habits that many of us wouldn't think twice about, warning they could be causing our brains to age faster than they should, thereby increasing the likelihood of developing dementia.

Here's a rundown of thirteen seemingly innocuous routines that could be doing more harm than good to your brain health:

1. Drinking alcohol

It's common knowledge that excessive drinking isn't good for your health, but it turns out that even moderate consumption can have significant effects on your brain. A study from 2022 found that consuming just two pints of beer or glasses of wine daily could age the brain by an entire decade, reports the Mirror.

Even more startling is the revelation that a single pint has the potential to age the brain by two years. Another study involving 40,000 participants in the UK identified alcohol as one of the top three preventable risk factors for dementia, alongside diabetes and air pollution.

Dr Esther Walton from the University of Bath commented on the findings: "Alcohol is definitely one of the most common things that ages the brain."

She added: "People who drink tend to have older-looking brains, but we don't know if that's causal - it could be that older-looking brains 'make us' drink."

2. Not getting enough sleep

It's widely known that a lack of sleep can lead to forgetfulness, irritability and fatigue. However, the long-term effects can be more serious than you might think.

Scientists have found that chronic sleep deprivation can increase your risk of dementia. A study published in Nature Communications revealed that those who slept for six hours or less per night had a 30% higher risk compared to those who managed seven hours or more. The researchers explained that sleep is crucial as it helps to clear toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer's from the brain.

Separate research concluded that teenagers were less efficient, flexible and resilient when they didn't get enough sleep. In addition to this, they struggled with understanding, controlling their behaviour and regulating their emotions.

3. Spending too much time alone

A US study examined the brains of healthy adults who reported feelings of loneliness. The researchers discovered that these individuals had elevated cortical amyloid levels - a marker used in the diagnosis of dementia.

Further research has linked social isolation to early-onset dementia, where symptoms appear before the age of 65. Dr Walton stated: "There's some strong evidence that loneliness relate to a faster-ageing brain."

4. Going to concerts

Exposure to loud noises has been linked to an increased risk of hearing loss, which scientists say could heighten the likelihood of developing dementia. This can occur through various activities such as listening to music via headphones, tuning into the radio, attending live concerts, or even due to workplace noise.

Dr Tim Beanland from the Alzheimer's Society has emphasised the importance of taking precautions and seeking early checks. He advised: "If you are exposed to loud noises for long periods (or have any gigs lined up for the coming months), wear ear protection when necessary.

"It's important to get your hearing tested. You can normally book a free hearing test at your local optician or speak to your GP about being referred to an audiologist. This will show up any hearing issues and provide ways of managing them, such as using a hearing aid."

5. Drinking coffee

In a surprising twist, some reports have suggested that drinking coffee could be linked to an aged brain, although there is no concrete evidence to support the claim that caffeine directly causes dementia. Research published in Nutritional Neuroscience indicates that individuals who consume more than six cups of coffee daily may have a 53 per cent increased risk of dementia diagnosis compared to those who drink one to two cups.

Heavy coffee drinkers were also found to have reduced total brain volumes, particularly in regions associated with memory.

6. Missing GP appointments

Furthermore, missing GP appointments has been highlighted as a potential health risk. Skipping routine health checks like blood pressure and cholesterol screenings is a no-no, warns Dr Beanland, who emphasises the connection between cardiovascular health and brain diseases such as stroke, Alzheimer's, and vascular dementia: "We know that poor cardiovascular health is a risk factor for brain diseases such as stroke, Alzheimer's and vascular dementia and hence why, 'What's good for the heart is good for the head'."

7. Not getting enough exercise

Regular exercise can slash your risk of developing dementia by 28 per cent, according to the Alzheimer's Society. Whether it's hitting the gym, clocking up steps or enjoying a morning swim, staying active is crucial.

Dr Beanland advises: "Research has shown that doing regular physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia. Part of this is about healthier living: physical exercise, a healthy diet and so on."

8. Taking part in contact sports

Participating in contact sports could also be risky. A Danish study indicated an increased risk of dementia for a decade following a head injury in individuals over 50, with greater danger accompanying more head injuries.

Research from the University of Glasgow revealed that professional footballers face a three-and-a-half times higher risk of death from progressive brain injuries compared to the general population, with a fivefold increase in the likelihood of dying from Alzheimer's.

9. Junk food

The link between diet and brain conditions may be debated, but it's clear that healthy eating benefits overall well-being and offers protective effects.

Dr Beanland said: "There is some evidence that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of developing problems with memory and thinking and getting some forms of dementia. This means adding more fruit, vegetables and cereals to your shopping basket, and eating less red meat and sugary foods."

Meanwhile, Dr Walton pointed out: "There's not a lot of evidence for exercise or diet. However, diet has been shown to influence other measures of biological ageing such as epigenetic ageing."

10. Lack of education

When it comes to education and its impact on cognitive decline, which everyone experiences as they age, there are indications that higher levels of education may offer some protection against dementia.

Dr Rosa Sancho from Alzheimer's Research UK explained: "While it's difficult to measure the extent to which individual lifestyle factors contribute to our overall dementia risk, this study supports the idea that the education we get early in life can affect our risk of developing the condition."

11. Living with a stressful job

As for the effects of a stressful job, it's widely acknowledged that excessive stress can have negative consequences on sleep, skin, mental health, and even lead to brain shrinkage. Alzheimer's Society has highlighted that stress, which impacts the immune system, plays a significant role in the onset of dementia. During periods of high stress, the hormone cortisol is released, and this has been associated with anxiety, depression and dementia.

12. Mindless scrolling

A 2023 study revealed that we spend an average of seven hours a day glued to a screen, but it could be significantly more. This excessive screen time is having a profound impact on our brains, leading to what's being termed as "digital dementia."

Although not officially recognised, it refers to issues like short-term memory loss, forgetfulness, difficulty recalling words and multitasking problems due to overuse of technology. Another research from 2023 found that spending more than four hours a day in front of a screen increased the risk of dementia.

Dr Beanland, author of Mind Games, said: "It's about mental exercise simply put, the brain is like any other muscle: to keep it trim, you've got to get to the gym to help improve brain health and enhance mental agility. Activities like puzzles that stimulate the brain work in a different way, by building up a 'cognitive reserve' of stronger nerve pathways."

13. Smoking

"Although by no means a harmless habit, if you smoke, you're putting yourself at a much higher risk of developing dementia later in life," warned Dr Beanland.

Smoking is believed to increase the risk of dementia by 30 to 50 per cent. Some experts even suggest that around 14 per cent of dementia cases worldwide can be attributed to smoking.