Learning to prevent Alzheimer’s is a topic near and dear to my heart, simply because I have seen exactly how destructive it can be to both those who are struggling with it and to their family. There is a common misconception that Alzheimer’s will neatly eat away at your memory and leave other things intact, but it actually degrades your brain globally destroying memory, personality, skills and social functions. Alzheimer’s destroys everything about the person in a slow, systematic downhill slide. It’s horrible for the person who is struggling and equally hard for their loved ones. Nobody knows exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but there are clearly both genetic and lifestyle components. The great news is that there are many steps you can take to keep your brain healthy and sharp into old age. There is no guarantee that you will be protected, but certainly you can reduce your risk.
Proven Measures to Prevent Alzheimer’s: The Seven Foundations of Good Health.
1. Active body
- Physical exercise reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s dementia by 50% – that is a dramatic difference. Also, if cognitive decline has already started then getting more exercise can slow to progress of the condition.
- Aim for 30 minutes of activity that increases your heart rate (or aerobic activity) 5 times per week.
- Building strong muscles helps maintain brain health as well. Adding 2-3 sessions of resistance exercise like lifting weights not only increases muscle mass but also makes your brain healthier.
- Exercises or activities that increase balance and coordination such as tai-chi, yoga, qi gong, or even stand up paddle boarding can help your brain to develop new connections, strengthen your body and even prevent head injury, which is also a contributor to Alzheimer’s and other forms of memory loss.
2. Active Mind
- It makes sense that exercising the brain will help to keep it stronger and more active as you age.
- Learn something new, take up a new hobby, or try strategy games, puzzles, riddles or memory games.
- Do the same old thing in a different way – take a new driving route to the grocery store, try writing with the other hand or rearrange your kitchen. Doing something a new way pushes your brain to create new neural pathways.
3. Active Social Life
- Research shows that the more connected you are to your social group and to other people, the more likely it is that you will do well on test of memory and cognition.
- It is easier with age to become more socially isolated so take care to cultivate and maintain healthy friendships and relationships.
- If you are in a position with a recent move or transition out of the work force and don’t have great social connections then it is time to build some. Volunteer, take night classes, join a club or social group, visit a community or senior center, get out and about, or get a small part time fun job.
4. Healthy Diet
- Alzheimer’s is highly linked to heart disease so adopting a heart-healthy diet will also help you to prevent Alzheimer’s long term. It is also highly linked to diabetes, so managing healthy blood sugars in key in keeping your brain functioning at its best.
- Eat plenty of good quality fats and oils like olive oil, grass fed butter, fish oil, coconut oil and avocados. Decrease the amount of fatty or processed meats, shortening, and especially trans fats.
- Increase the amount of vegetables and fruits that you eat every day especially the darkly or richly pigmented veggies and fruits like blueberries, pomegranate, beets, carrots, raspberries, elderberry, and blackberry.
- Minimize the candy, cookies, sweets and also breads in the diet. Alzheimer’s is closely related to diabetes and involves an insulin-resistance within the brain itself so it is important that you maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
- Eat small amounts regularly – for brain health, 4-5 small meals daily is better than 2-3 larger ones.
- A daily cup of green tea has also been shown to reduce your risk and promote brain health.
5. Healthy Sleep
- Sleep can be a struggle with age so it is important to create a good sleep environment. Make sure to use good sleep hygiene with a totally dark room, no background noise and a regular sleep schedule.
- Use melatonin if you have difficulty falling asleep or sleep lightly. Melatonin by itself has shown great benefit in protecting the health and function of the brain so this could be a double-whammy. Also in a senior population melatonin at high dose, like 20 mg nightly, is safe and possibly advisable because research is showing benefits with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- The average person needs 8 hours of sleep to peak creativity and productivity.
6. Healthy Stress Levels
- Every life has challenges, but worrying has never actually solved any of them.
- Undue levels of stress create changes in your body that then change your mental functioning.
- Breathe – stress reduces the amount of oxygen in your brain, so deep belly breathing for a few minutes a couple of times a day can help to re-oxygenate and re-energize your brain.
7. Stop With the Self-Harm.
- Avoiding some of the major triggers of Alzheimer’s disease will obviously keep you protected longer.
- Quit smoking – smoking has been shown to lead to earlier onset of dementia.
- Drink in moderation – excessive alcohol also speeds up the onset of memory loss and dementia, some of which is entirely alcohol related.
- Protect your noggin – head injury is strongly linked to Alzheimer’s and protecting your head can help your brain to stay sharp.
As the US population ages the rates of Alzheimer’s disease are rising. Protect your brain and adopt an anti-Alzheimer’s lifestyle. It is literally never too late to make positive change – even if it’s walking around the block every day. There is always something you can do to change your health and well being and to change your disease risk – you can delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s even if you have a family history of the disease. Look to future posts to talk about some of the supplements and specific activities that can be helpful for Alzheimer’s disease.