Five Tips for Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease
Currently, the biggest tool we have to combat Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is prevention. While some medical treatments may help slow the progression or ease dementia symptoms temporarily, nearly 90% of Alzheimer’s diseases case are preventable. There is no single magic solution, but a holistic approach that starts early can prevent the onset of dementia by keeping the body, mind and brain healthy.
1) Exercise Regularly
Being active not only helps keep the body strong, but maintains brain health. Physical exercise may be the most important factor in reducing one’s risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Aerobic exercise shows the most benefit, improving memory, thinking, attention and processing speed in older adults. And it doesn’t matter if you have never been very active. Even older adults reduce their risk of dementia when they start exercising, including seniors already showing signs of cognitive decline. Anything that gets your heart rate up for 20-30 minutes is beneficial, including gardening, cleaning and energetic walks.
Don’t forget to exercise the mind! Playing games, reading, doing puzzles, drawing, painting and playing music all have measurable, positive effects in reducing the risk of dementia.
2) Eat Well
You simply cannot escape it. Eating plant-based foods, whole grains and minimizing animal fats are the key to a longer, healthier life. This means eat your veggies and fruits every day, especially berries, leafy greens, legumes and whole grains. Minimize the amount of saturated fats, sugars and salt you eat and maintain a healthy weight.
3) Get Enough Sleep
It is essential to get more than 6 hours of quality sleep per night, especially for adults in middle age. Studies show a 30% increased risk for dementia for adults in their 50s and 60s getting less than seven hours of sleep. Sleeping is when the body goes into repair mode. And during deep sleep, toxins get filtered out of the brain, including the amyloid associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep plays a role in learning, memory and concentration, all aspects of good cognitive health.
4) Stay Connected
Often, as adults age, they become more isolated. Whether it is because we have a harder time getting around, suffer from poor hearing or diminished eyesight, or friends and family have moved away or passed on, our social circle tends to get smaller as we age. Isolation can lead to depression which contributes to the risk of developing dementia. Invest in relationships: make phone calls, write letters, start a video chat or say Hi to the neighbor. If diagnosed with depression, seek therapy or group counseling.
5) Monitor Health Risks
Quit smoking. Minimize alcohol intake — if not cutting it out entirely. And be sure to visit your doctor regularly. Conditions like cataracts and hearing loss have been shown to increase the risk of dementia. Hearing and seeing well is crucial for a satisfying social experience, lessening the likelihood of depression and anxiety and reducing the risk of dementia. Use hearing aids, visit the eye doctor and practice moderation.
No one factor will give someone — or prevent someone from getting — Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Making the effort to eat well most of the time, stay active, practice good sleep hygiene, visit the doctor and prioritize communication with loved ones can not only reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease but will provide for an overall better quality of life.
The good news is genetics do not appear to play an outsize role in your risk of developing dementia. If your parent or a family member has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it does not mean you will.
Practicing moderation and healthy habits are the best ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and are largely in our control. It is never too early or too late to prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s. Always speak with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine or changing your diet. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and small changes can make a big difference.