I’m Dr. Anthony Stabler, the latest addition to the growing and thriving practice here at Community Neuropsychology in Louisville. It’s nice to meet you all! I feel so welcomed here in Colorado. Here’s an obligatory bit about myself. I completed my doctorate at Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL, then went on to a 1-year APA-accredited internship in clinical neuropsychology at the Kansas University School of Medicine in Wichita, KS. I more recently moved from Boston, MA to Louisville in August of this year after completing my 2-year fellowship in clinical neuropsychology through the Harvard Medical School at McLean Hospital. I can’t express enough how happy I am to be living and building my career as an independent practitioner in Colorado. I clearly see why people love it here!
Ok, enough about me. Let’s talk about something of great importance to my clinical work and to the lives of so many others across the globe: Dementia. Dementia poses the greatest global challenge for health and social care in the 21st century. Approximately 47 million people were living with dementia in 2015, and that number is expected to triple by 2050. Yes, triple. On the individual level, dementia affects the lives of those with the condition who gradually lose their functional capacity, as well as the lives of relatives, close friends, and caregivers who become tasked with responding to their increasing dependency and cognitive/behavioral changes. On a societal level, the global cost of dementia-related care in 2015 was estimated to be over $800 billion, and this number is obviously expected to increase as the number of individuals living with dementia increases over time.
So what are we to do about this? The results of a high-impact study published by the Lancet Commission in 2017 revealed that 35% of dementia risk is attributable to the following nine lifestyle variables: (1) lower levels of education (less than 12 years), (2) mid-life hypertension, (3) mid-life obesity, (4) hearing loss, (5) late-life depression, (6) diabetes, (7) physical inactivity, (8) smoking, and (9) social isolation. If you read between the lines here, the vast majority of these risk factors (excepting low education level and hearing loss) are modifiable through making changes to our lifestyle choices and health behaviors.
The key to intervention is starting early and taking a multi-modal approach. Among individuals with mid-life hypertension, consistent medication-based control between the ages of 45-64 has been shown to reduce risk of cognitive decline. A Mediterranean diet involving prominent and daily intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats has also showed promise for reduced cognitive decline risk. As we all know, smoking is bad for a number of reasons, one being that it does increase dementia risk. So please, if you currently smoke, consider pursuing the help you need to work your way toward quitting. Ongoing and consistent physical activity is key! Never in my life have I seen so many active people as I have in Colorado. With an outdoor environment providing over 300 days of sunshine, wide open spaces, and beautiful views, Colorado is, in my totally biased opinion, the BEST place for engaging in physical activity! Specifically, a daily aerobic exercise routine is thought to be most beneficial for preventing cognitive decline and maintaining optimal day-to-day mental abilities. Ongoing social activity cannot be understated. According to research and based upon observations from my own clinical experiences, many individuals showing signs of cognitive decline and/or dementia tend to withdraw from social interactions and find themselves less motivated to engage in social activity. Having regularly scheduled meet-ups with family/friends and pursuing community-based activities through avenues such as local recreation/senior centers can provide great outlets for social engagement. Regular social activity can also help to reduce the risk of developing depression.
These are just a few of the numerous ways in which we can modify our lifestyle to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Let’s make it happen!