For many Americans, learning how to prevent Alzheimer’s as they age is a top concern. It’s understandable–– Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia, is currently the 6th leading cause of death in this country, and has steadily been growing as a public health issue over the past 16 years.
Anyone who’s ever cared for a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia knows how sad and scary the journey can be. From the emotional turmoil of no longer being recognized by a loved one, to the need for constant care and supervision, Alzheimer’s is the type of illness that tests not only the mind but the body and relationships as well.
So what causes Alzheimer’s Disease? And most importantly, how can we prevent it? While the causes are still being researched, experts suggest that dietary and lifestyle adjustments can greatly reduce the chances of developing the disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Key Facts
- Alzheimer’s Disease was named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who formally discovered the disease in a patient in 1906.
- Alzheimer’s is the most well-known form of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of reported cases.
- Over the past few decades, Alzheimer’s increased steadily across the U.S., but recently, rates have slightly decreased.
- Alzheimer’s Disease remains incurable at this writing. While primarily a disease that affects the brain, it also affects the body and ultimately leads to death unless another disease or injury intervenes.
- Though there is a genetic component in the development of Alzheimer’s, scientists speculate that a combination of environmental, diet and lifestyle factors play into the progression of the disease.
- Promising research shows that PREVENTION of the disease may be possible through diet and lifestyle adjustments.
- Early memory loss and dementia may also be able to be REVERSED through dietary and lifestyle shifts.
The Good News
The good news is that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia is actually going down. A new study found that just 10.5% of U.S. adults age 65 and older had dementia in 2012, compared with 12% in 2000. Of course, as our population grows older, more and more people are expected to develop Alzheimer’s, but collectively, the rates are decreasing.
Why is this? Well, there are many reasons–a major one being an increased level of research and public information about how to prevent Alzheimer’s. Also, with the growing level of awareness around Alzheimer’s and dementia, many have started taking the warning signs seriously, and have received preemptive care before it’s too late.
While resources are allocated to find a pharmaceutical solution to Alzheimer’s, we have yet to discover a “cure”. This could be, in part, because of the complex nature of Alzheimer’s and dementia–– most likely, there is not a singular cause, but multiple factors contributing towards a person’s likelihood to develop the disease.
For this reason, experts agree that attention to a few key areas of health can collectively reduce a person’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Below are the 7 most powerful science-based strategies for how to prevent Alzheimer’s.
How to Prevent Alzheimer’s: 7 Science-Based Strategies
You don’t have to start running marathons, but regular, moderate movement can go a long way in preventing a wide range of diseases–– including Alzheimer’s. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, regular physical exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50%.
The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends adults over the age of 65 get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. In order to balance strength, coordination, and stimulate brain activity, it can be helpful to vary your workouts.
Sample Exercise Routine:
- Monday: 30-45 minutes of brisk walking or jogging
- Tuesday: 30-45 minutes of strength training
- Wednesday: 30-45 minutes of swimming, cycling or playing a sport like golf or tennis
- Thursday: 30-45 minutes of Tai Chi or Yoga
- Friday: 30-45 minutes of strength training
- Saturday: 30-45 minutes of brisk walking or jogging
“You are what you eat.”
While just a few decades ago, this phrase might have been considered facetious, it is increasingly backed up by hard science. Research has shown that diet and lifestyle can prevent up to 80% of chronic diseases, and a healthy, balanced diet is considered one of the main elements of Alzheimer’s prevention.
With Alzheimer’s Disease, inflammation and insulin resistance damage brain cells and their pathways of communication. For this reason, the disease is sometimes called “diabetes of the brain.” By eating a healthy, whole foods diet we can reduce inflammation and insulin-related issues.
- Eat a foundation of home-cooked, unprocessed vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins like fish, grass-fed meat, chicken, eggs and plant-based sources like, lentils, beans and tofu.
- Cut refined sugar and refined carbs out of your diet. Both refined sugar and refined carbs can spike blood sugar and cause inflammation in the brain. *Pay special attention to the sugar that is added to almost everything store-bought–– from yogurt and bread, to cereal, granola bars, peanut butter, marinara sauce and more. Too often, the majority of our sugar intake does not even come from “desserts,” but just the daily dose that is unknowingly infused throughout our meals!
- Add in plenty of brain-boosting healthy fats, which are known to reduce the plaques that cause Alzheimer’s and dementia. Natural sources include cold water fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, cold-pressed olive oil and flaxseed oil.
The most important thing is to build in time for home-cooked food. When you cook your meals at home, you’re more likely to use fresh vegetables and proteins, and you’ll avoid the excessive amounts of salt, sugar, oil and additives that are commonly added to packaged and prepared meals. This can, of course, be time-consuming and increasingly difficult for older adults, but if you think of your food with the same regard as taking medication, it can be easier to make more time for it.
If you haven’t yet found an excuse to start taking your sleep seriously, perhaps this could be the one: recent studies suggest that disturbed sleep can be a risk factor in the development of Alzheimer’s. Sleep is not only necessary for the formation of memories, but also for our brain’s ability to flush toxins.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults over the age of 65 should be sleeping at least 7-8 hours per night.
If you have trouble sleeping, consider the following:
- Experiment with an earlier or later bedtime.
- Make sure your room is completely dark (darkness helps encourage the release of melatonin–– the “sleep hormone”).
- Since body temperature naturally drops at night, consider encouraging this process by keeping your bedroom temperature around 65-70 degree.s
- Instead of watching TV or using your phone, kindle or iPad before bedtime, consider reading a physical book, as blue light from screens activates your brain.
- Avoid caffeine after 12 pm.
- Take up a meditation practice, which is known to counteract insomnia and encourage sleep.
Along with genetics, diet, and lifestyle factors, scientists also attribute the development of Alzheimer’s Disease with exposures to environmental pollutants. When we’re exposed to toxins through air, water, food, and everyday products, they begin to accumulate in our bodies. Over time, this is suspected to cause neuroinflammation (inflammation of the nervous tissue) and neuropathology (diseases of the nervous tissue)–– which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Toxins suspected to contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease:
- Heavy Metals
- Pesticides & Insecticides
- Air Pollution
- Industrial/Commercial Chemicals
While it is impossible to detox completely from toxic chemicals, consider taking a closer look at your purchases, and find healthier alternatives. After purifying your food, water and air, you can use a resource like the Environmental Working Group to detoxify your health, beauty and cleaning products. Other underknown areas of concern include consuming poor-quality supplements, and exposure to off-gassing of building materials.
5. Learn New Things
Consistently challenging yourself mentally can improve both short term and long term cognitive function. Although the brain is not a muscle, it behaves like one. Every time you learn something new, new connections are formed between neurons. If you do this frequently, you can enjoy a well-exercised, healthy and supple mind.
As we age, our perspective on life can get smaller and smaller. We might “know” what we like and what we don’t, and stick to our routines. We might feel grumpy or unpleasant when we’re in unfamiliar surroundings. Not only can this behavior keep us emotionally stuck, it can keep us mentally stuck as well. For this reason, engaging in new, stimulating activities like traveling, learning a new language, taking a dance class or a professional course can work wonders for boosting brain health and combating dementia.
A great, easy way to practice your brain on a daily basis is to engage in puzzles, games, riddles and memorization activities. Recalling memories, storytelling, researching family history and engaging in cultural activities can also be enjoyable ways to practice memory.
6. Social Connection
As we age and experience life events like divorce, moving, loss of friends and loved ones, our social circle can also become smaller and smaller. Let’s face it, after college or having school-aged children, it can be difficult to make new friends–– especially if you’re retired or living alone.
The truth of the matter is–– many scientific studies point to human connection and social relationships as a foundational part of ongoing health, wellness and longevity.
If you already have a circle of friends, schedule in time for regular, meaningful connection with them. If you don’t have that circle, join existing communities formed around a skill, hobby, or spiritual practice. Consider group travel or retreats that looks interesting to you.
Also, consider volunteering to help those who are older or younger than you. Positive, intergenerational relationships can provide great lessons for everyone involved, while forging an overarching sense of community.
7. Stress Management
Hopefully, as we age, our lives become less stressful. However, once we learn certain behaviors, it can be hard to unlearn them. Even if we are retired or working part-time, we might still have the tendency to overwork ourselves or fall into toxic relationship dynamics, contributing to our overall stress.
Stress is not something to be taken lightly. It increases the risk of almost all diseases, including Alzheimer’s. It can actually shrink parts of the brain while impairing nerve cell growth.
To manage the stress in your life, start by noticing when you feel stressed. Signs of stress include headaches, sore muscles, clenching of the jaw, blushing, sweating, and just a general uneasiness or anxiety. It could be caused by something as simple as a disagreement with a partner, an unexpected bill, a traffic jam, or any number of other triggers. While many people accept and expect stress as a part of daily life, it can often be avoided by realizing that your reaction is actually a choice.
Once we have an understanding of what causes stress and how we physically react to it, we can unlock its hold on our body and mind. While many of us think of stress as an emotional or psychological issue, scheduling physical de-stressing activities (suggestions below) can help do the trick as well.
Managing stress is both an art and a science. It’s different for everyone, but a requirement in modern living.
Here are a few ways to manage your stress:
- Take up a meditation practice
- Read books on Stress Management
- Go to a yoga class, practice Tai Chi
- Take a stroll outdoors
- Gather with friends regularly
- Identify your favorite stress-relieving activities, and SCHEDULE THEM IN on a regular basis.
Although Alzheimer’s and dementia have already claimed the lives of countless loved ones, education and awareness are helping reverse these numbers every day. At this point, we are fortunate to have an abundance of information on what practices can protect us from this disease. It’s up to us to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle while spreading awareness on how to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.
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