Dementia is the loss of memory, language, problem solving, and other skills that require thinking. It is often caused by Alzheimer’s disease and primarily affects people aged 65 and older. Unfortunately, dementia can be severe enough to interfere with daily life, and sufferers often require additional care.

        LaylaBird via Getty Images

LaylaBird via Getty Images

“Dementia is a group of diseases characterized by the deterioration of at least two brain functions, such as loss of judgment and memory,” explained Blair Steel, psychologist at Carrara Treatment, Wellness & Spa. “Symptoms of dementia include forgetfulness, limited social skills, and impaired thinking that interferes with daily functioning.”

So what causes dementia? Your age, family history, race and ethnicity, heart health, and history of traumatic brain injury are factors that increase your risk of developing the condition. But another big category is lifestyle habits. So while you can’t control your genetics, there are some seemingly harmless behaviors you may be engaging in that may increase your risk. Continue reading to learn more about them below:

1. Not moving your body enough or sitting for too long

Exercising (especially aerobic exercise) can help reduce cognitive decline and the risk of dementia. Long-term regular exercise can positively affect your brain and overall health, especially as you approach age 60. Getting your body moving daily is something you can do to lower your risk of dementia.

Steel said: “Being inactive takes a toll on the brain.” Like other muscles, it’s good to remember that “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

2. Not socializing enough

Four women sit wrapped in colorful blankets in an outdoor cafe.

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Social health plays a role in the development of dementia; An active and socially integrated lifestyle may protect against the disease. Stimulating the brain with social interaction is important for everyone, especially as we age. However, in the age of social media, socializing has become a broader term.

“We spend many hours on social media; however, this probably does not stimulate the brain’s connected experience as much as socializing in person,” Steel explained.

Poor social health can overstimulate the body’s response to stress through increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increasing blood pressure and decreasing blood flow to vital organs, among other health problems.

3. Get enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep can have a big impact on your brain health.

Not getting enough sleep can have a big impact on your brain health.

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Sleep disorders and dementia are two common and important health problems in older adults. (Let’s face it, sleep tends to get put on the back burner.) Whether it’s due to family obligations, work, or staying up late on the phone or watching TV, there’s always something that gets in the way of adequate sleep.

Unfortunately, sleep patterns early in life can contribute to later problems. If you have trouble sleeping or don’t sleep at all, lack of sleep could increase your risk of dementia.

“Avoid screens and light after a certain hour and try not to reach for your phone if your sleep is interrupted,” Steel suggested. Try to unplug at least 30 minutes before bed.

4. Being chronically stressed

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, stress is linked to dementia because when you are stressed and cortisol is released, it can create problems with your memory. The negative effects of stress, particularly chronic stress, on the brain can lead to cognitive decline due to prolonged elevations of cortisol, which plays an important role in how the body responds to stress.

Working to reduce stress through healthy habits can be key to mitigating this risk. Exercise, creative activities or hobbies, spending time with loved ones, meditation, watching a good show, or reading a good book can help you relax.

Also, “try to be flexible with your reactions and avoid the ‘my way or the highway’ mentality, which can be common in older adults,” Steel said.

5. Consume excessive amounts of alcohol

Whiskey with ice on the bar table

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The Alzheimer’s Society also says there is a specific type of alcohol-related dementia that is considered alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD). This is due to brain damage caused by drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis, usually over many years.

People with this type of dementia may have problems such as cooking, remembering things, thinking carefully, and even have difficulty with more complex tasks such as managing finances.

6. Eat an unbalanced diet

Research shows that a diet high in ultra-processed foods may increase the risk of dementia in adults. While no diet is perfect, making sure you are eating healthy, well-balanced meals most of the time can be extremely beneficial.

Try eating leafy green vegetables, berries, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil, while limiting red meat, sweets, cheese, butter, and fast and fried foods. These are healthy options that optimize your brain health.

You can reduce your risk of dementia by changing the habits mentioned above, but you should also talk to a doctor if you have cognitive problems.

“If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of dementia, it is important to talk to a doctor and get an evaluation,” Steel said. Your primary care doctor will be able to evaluate you and, if necessary, refer you to a specialist.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

By Sam