5 Tips for Reducing the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Published: 04-21-2021

When Former President Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 1994, he addressed the nation through a letter: “I intend to live the remainder of the years … on this earth doing the things I have always done.”

 The purpose of his announcement was to create a “clearer understanding” of the disease—and also acknowledge that families and caregivers often bear a “heavy burden.”

 The Former President also acknowledged that he was “one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted” by the irreversible, progressive disease.

 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that 5.8 million Americans aged 65 years or older had Alzheimer’s in 2020—and this number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060.

 

What is Alzheimer’s?

 Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. As defined by the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s severely impairs an individual’s memory and, eventually, “the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.”

 

What causes Alzheimer’s?

 As stated by the Alzheimer’s Association, experts believe that the disease more than likely develops as a result of the “complex interaction” of multiple factors including:

  • Age (most individuals are over the age of 65)
  • Family history
  • Genetics
  • Coexisting medical conditions (such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes)

Additionally, experts have noted that several risk factors, such as lack of exercise, can lead to the development of the disease.

Can you prevent Alzheimer’s?

Though research on the disease is constantly developing, experts have suggested that these five key lifestyle changes may reduce an individual’s risk for Alzheimer’s or cognitive (mental) decline:

1.      Get more exercise. Several studies have noted that physical activity can reduce the likelihood of dementia and Alzheimer’s “even at mild to moderate intensity.” By exercising several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes, experts believe that not only is a person keeping his or her body in shape, but also the mind-body connection. Activities such as walking, dancing, golfing and even gardening can be beneficial to an individual’s well-being.

2.     Make sleep a priority. Several experts have suggested that routinely getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, “Alzheimer's Disease is characterized by the presence of amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain. Previous studies suggested that poor sleep quality was associated with the presence of amyloid plaques in cognitively healthy individuals, and that even one night of sleep deprivation can increase the levels of amyloid in the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), the fluid that bathes the brain.”

3.     Introduce a healthier diet. The Alzheimer’s Association has noted that heart-healthy eating, which includes limiting the intake of sugar and saturated fats (such as butters, fatty meats and cheeses) while increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, may protect the brain. Though no “perfect diet” exists, two diets that may lower an individual’s risk include:

  • The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet, which emphasizes vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, lean proteins (such as fish) and oils.
  • A Mediterranean Diet, which is centered on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and healthy fats (like nuts and olive oil).

4.     Stay socially connected. Data has indicated that nurturing social connections with friends, family and loved ones may keep an individual mentally and emotionally healthy while also potentially lowering the risk of mental decline. “Experts are not certain about the reason for this association,” notes the Alzheimer’s Association. “It may be due to direct mechanisms through which social and mental stimulation strengthen connections between nerve cells in the brain.”

5.     Challenge yourself mentally. By actively stimulating the brain through activities such as reading, ‘brain games’ or even puzzles, studies have shown that an individual may “preserve brain structures and cognitive functions.” In other words, an individual should focus on exercising the mind in terms of its memory, reasoning and speed of processing information.

What are the warning signs of Alzheimer’s?

As outlined by the CDC, early signs of Alzheimer’s may include memory loss, challenges in problem solving, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with times or places, trouble understanding images, misplacing objects, decreased judgement and changes in mood or personality.

 

Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s?

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, several drug and non-drug treatment options are available to ontrol or slow symptoms. Additionally, there are several resources available that can partner with you and your family to provide care for a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

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