Do saunas help with dementia?

May 30 | Tom Harvey

Neurodegenerative diseases deteriorate certain structures within the central nervous system, which is responsible for motor control and cognitive performance. Dementia is an umbrella term for several diseases affecting memory, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers believe that they have found a correlation between regular sauna bathing and a reduced risk of dementia. This is because saunas can often reduce inflammation, which is believed to play a big role in the progression of dementia. Saunas can also trigger the body to make a particular protein that promotes neuroplasticity and correct protein formation within the brain, which could help to ward off dementia as long as possible.

While more research is still needed into the correlation between dementia symptoms and sauna use, the initial findings of completed studies have been promising.

How many saunas assist in helping with dementia?

The studies conducted to link sauna use and a reduced risk of dementia involved traditional saunas in Finland. These saunas heat up the environment around your body, creating a slight increase in your body temperature to induce mild hyperthermia. This has been linked to a decrease in certain dementia risk factors, such as hypertension, vascular function problems, and inflammation.

But what about infrared saunas? These types of saunas still increase your body temperature, but they use lights that don’t heat up the environment around you. These might be better for patients already showing dementia symptoms to keep them as comfortable as possible throughout the treatment.

What are some of the potential dementia benefits of sauna use?

Can reduce inflammation

Research has shown that repeated sauna use can reduce inflammation all over the body, including around the central nervous system, which has been shown as a dementia risk factor. Reducing this inflammation may reduce the risk of developing dementia.

May improve sleep

The possibility of dementia could make you lose sleep, so using a sauna for improved nighttime rest might be a good option for people suffering. A lack of sleep can change parts of your brain, some of which are related to Alzheimer’s disease. Getting regular good nights of sleep may be able to ward off dementia for longer.

Has the potential to reduce hypertension

Several studies have linked regular sauna bathing habits with lower blood pressure, which is another risk factor for dementia. Reducing your blood pressure might reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Could reduce stress associated with neurodegenerative diseases

The thought of a neurodegenerative disease, such as dementia, is certainly a stressful one, so implementing a relaxing lifestyle choice as a preventative method can help you in more ways than one. Stress is also a suggested factor that could increase dementia risk.

Scientific evidence and findings on the impact saunas have on dementia

There have been two observational studies conducted that suggest a link between sauna bathing habits and lowered dementia risk. The first looked at Finnish sauna bathing through over 2,300 healthy participants. They were followed up for an average of 20.7 years, and the study found:

These impressive reductions in the risk of dementia remained the same, even with factors such as body mass index, alcohol consumption, age, blood pressure, smoking status, and chronic illnesses being controlled.

The second study, also from Finland, was a longer-term observation including 13,994 men and women. This study showed that people who used the sauna between 9 and 12 times a month had a reduced risk of dementia, while people who used the sauna between 13 and 30 times a month did not.

It also determined that the best duration was between 5 and 14 minutes per sauna session, and the best temperature was between 80 and 99°C. Temperatures over 100°C were linked with a higher risk of dementia.

Are there any potential risks or precautions to consider?

Sauna usage has been shown to lower blood pressure and affect vascular function, which is good for some people with hypertension. However, these effects might make sauna bathing unsuitable for people with heart disease or low blood pressure. People with acute infections and asthma might also need to avoid using a sauna, and some medicines advise you not to use heat therapy while on them, too.

To be safe, we recommend you always check with a healthcare professional before using heat therapy for dementia. Your doctor will be able to give you all of the risks and benefits so you can make an informed decision beforehand.

How often should you consider using a sauna for dementia prevention?

Studies suggest the best use of sauna bathing for dementia is quite particular, with the best results coming from 2 to 3 sauna sessions a week below 100°C. Sessions should be kept between 5 and 15 minutes, so don’t sit in the sauna for too long at once.

These requirements are based on one study and therefore aren’t conducive to everyone, but it’s a good starting point for people who want to use sauna bathing as a preventative for dementia.

Our in-house experts’ tips for using a sauna to help with dementia

Tom Harvey, co-founder and co-director of TH7

Final thoughts

There is limited research to suggest that regular sauna bathing can reduce the risk of dementia. More research is being done on the topic, but since studies need to be conducted over great periods of time, there isn’t much conclusive information yet.

Sauna bathing can improve stress, sleep, hypertension, and inflammation – all of which have been linked to an increased risk of developing dementia. So, some think there is a good chance sauna bathing will have a positive effect on dementia patients.

However, requirements for temperature and duration of sessions might be stricter than first thought, so it can be more worry than it’s worth. There are also other risks to consider, such as heat stroke. Work with your doctor before deciding whether saunas are a viable option for you to prevent dementia.