You're Never Too Young to Lower Your Risk of Early Onset Dementia

31 January 2020

A form of early dementia, known a frontotemporal lobar degeneration, is a condition that involves a change or decline in personality, the ability to move, decision making skills, and language. These functional declines can happen quickly and lead to death within ten years.  Luckily, there is a lot of emerging data for prevention and treatment related to lifestyle factors.  Keep reading to learn more.

What is early onset dementia?

This less common disease affects people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), not to be confused with Alzheimer's disease, is caused by a genetic mutation.  It is characterized by a rapid loss of language capabilities and behavior changes. This is different from other forms of dementia that start with short term memory loss.  This can lead to frustration for family and loved ones, when someone affected with the disease still has good memory but struggles with speech and age appropriate actions.

What are the treatment options?

Unfortunately, at this time , there are no formal treatment options for addressing early onset dementia.  Right now, the focus is on keeping people affected with early onset dementia comfortable as their function rapidly declines. The good news is that emerging research demonstrates how lifestyle choices and its affects on epigenetics, how we express our genes, can have a profound effect on onset and progession of FTD.  

How our lifestyle choices affect our gene expression and disease progression.

A new report assessing how physical and mental activity affect this form of dementia shows promising results. Analysis suggests that people that regularly exercise and complete tasks that challenge the brain can slow onset and progression of FTD.  These promising studies illustrate that lifestyle habits are the best way to treat this form of dementia.

Simple ways to improve your lifestyle habits.

  • Physical exercise.  Regular daily movement is ideal to optimize brain health.  General exercise recommendations include 150 minutes of moderate activity.  This can be anything from walking and yoga to a home workout or local gym class.  Try to include 2 days per week of weight training if possible. For younger adults that are still working and struggling with finding time to exercise, they can incorporate  movement into their day with simple hacks like a desk bike or standing desk.
  • Mental games. These include puzzles, reading, learning a new language or a musical instrument, or even simply engaging in regular stimulating conversation. Shoot for 30 minutes a day of these brain boosting activities.
  • High quality sleep. Keep a regular sleep schedule and shoot for 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Boosting the quality requires minimizing screen time and food before bed, plus sleeping in a space free of light and noise.  Spending at least a half an hour relaxing at the end of the day can also optimize your sleep patterns.
  • Eat a nutrient dense diet. Eat high quality whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sustainably sourced meat.  Limit processed packaged foods full of sugar, salt, preservatives and other chemicals.
  • Get rid of bad habits.  Excessive alcohol consumption, poor stress management, smoking, and poor water intake can all lead to bad gene expression and poor health.

Our environment and choices are the key for healthy gene expression.

Epigenetics, the study of gene expression, is showing us just how important our daily habits and routine really are for keeping good health.  Lifestyle changes for limiting progression and onset of early onset dementia is currently the best treatment option available.  This is great news, since lifestyle changes don't come with any nasty side effects like most medications do (just many benefits!).

Start simple and make big changes.

A healthy lifestyle is good for so many reasons, and it doesn't have to be complicated. Start with one small step (based on the suggestions above) and progress from there. You will gain momentum as you successfully trade in your old bad habits for new ones.  The key is to just get started.

*If you have any concerns about your health, always talk to your doctor first for appropriate recommendations.