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DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I am in my mid-40s and have two young children. My mother developed memory issues in her early 60s, and it has progressively worsened. Her sisters also have related issues. How can I reduce my risk — and my children's risk — for dementia? Are there certain foods, supplements or activities that we should incorporate into our lives to lower the chances for memory loss?
ANSWER: Dementia describes symptoms that affect a person's memory, thinking and social abilities to the point that it's difficult to perform normal daily activities. Dementia is caused by brain disease. Alzheimer's disease is the most common and the one best known to the public. Diseases that affect the blood vessels — the same diseases that cause heart attacks and stroke — are the second most common cause of dementia.
Having a family history of dementia increases your risk of developing the condition. However, many people with a family history never develop symptoms. And those who don't have a family history also may experience memory issues as they age.
As to your children specifically, good habits start early. The earlier you start them on practicing healthy habits, the more likely they are to sustain them. This will benefit them in later years. Make sure they also are living as healthy a lifestyle as possible. If their brain and heart blood vessels stay in good condition throughout young adulthood and midlife, your children are more likely to be able to remain healthy as they age.
If the health of those blood vessels deteriorates when people are younger, it's difficult to mend the damage later. And damage to the brain's blood vessels can be a factor in dementia.
This is not to say that incorporating healthy choices into your lifestyle if you are older won't make any difference. These choices can still positively affect your cognitive and physical health.
If you are concerned that you may be experiencing memory issues earlier than your mother, despite changing your lifestyle, reach out to your primary care provider or a neurologist for additional guidance. — Dr. Gregory Day, Neurology, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida