Alzheimer’s and dementia. These are scary words and are undoubtedly among the biggest health problems facing us today. As we age, our faculties might deteriorate. This doesn’t happen with everyone, but we know the No. 1 risk factor is aging.

So what can you do to help shield yourself? Just like seat belts reduce your risk of dying or being injured in a car crash, there are things you can do that will drop the risk of dementia.

We now have excellent research that shows there are lifestyle steps you can take to drop the risk of dementia by 30 or 40 or maybe even 50 percent.

Stop smoking. Also stop averaging more than two drinks a day. Get your blood pressure under control, which means as close to 120/80 as you can without side effects. There are doctors, by the way, who disagree with the new American Heart Association guidelines that say lower blood pressure is the way to go.

Eat a Mediterranean diet. If you need a statin to control cholesterol, take it without fail. It also helps the brain. And a daily aspirin is a must – low-dose is all you need. Also remember to exercise, at least 2,500 steps a day at a minimum, and more is better.

Now for the interesting clincher: A recent study I reviewed also showed that if you’re hard of hearing, getting a hearing aid is important. According to researchers publishing in the British Medical Journal, this nifty device might reduce the risk of dementia by 10 percent in anyone hard of hearing.

Why? Because once you have to say, over and over again, “What did you say?” you eventually just stop saying it and withdraw from social interactions.

So back to this analysis by epidemiologists publishing in the BMJ, they looked at more than 15 studies of nearly 800,000 people in Europe, North and South America and Asia. The people were divided into those who were married or living together in the same household and those who lived alone, especially people who lived alone their whole life.

The researchers found that the single-living people were 42 percent more likely to develop dementia. That was whether they were men, women, smokers or non-smokers, abstainers or drinkers.

Now go back to this hearing aid thing, put it together and you’ll see that it may be we’re sampling what I might call the “social interaction risk.” It’s not that you have to live with someone, but you do have to interact with someone. That’s where the key is.

My spin: It’s not clear but considering everything together, I think it shows again that we are social creatures. In the doctor’s office, we don’t really discuss that. We talk about the numbers, cholesterol, weight, etc., but we don’t often discuss social situations. Perhaps we should.

This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster.

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