Most people’s biggest fear as we grow older is Alzheimer’s. We forget where we put the car keys and think ‘Oh My God! am I getting Alzheimer’s?” If you simply can’t find your keys, that may just be forgetful, but if you find your key in the refrigerator one day and the medicine chest the next, then that could be Alzheimers.
Unfortunately by the time someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 80% of their brain cells are already damaged. Researchers are spending billions looking for a “Cure” but once the brain cells and the neural connections are broken, it may be nearly impossible to regain you memory. So like anything else it is better to prevent Alzheimer’s in the first place so you don’t need to worry about the cure down the road.
Although there are no magic solutions, tantalizing new evidence suggests it may be possible to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease through a combination of healthful habits.
Scientists now suggest you can stimulate your mind, improve your mood, sharpen your memory, and reduce your Alzheimer’s risks. Learn their discoveries and join the race towards brain vitality now.
In This Article:
- Which Alzheimer’s risks can you control or reduce?
- Take charge to prevent and delay Alzheimer’s disease
- Get plenty of exercise
- Eat a brain-healthy diet
- Build brain reserves
- Sleep to restore memory
- Learn to relax & manage stress
- Protect your brain
- Related links & references
Although scientists are still working to find causes and cures for Alzheimer’s disease, conditions and behaviors that leave you more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease have been identified.
Did you know:
- Smoking after age 65 increases your chances of developing Alzheimer’s by 79%?
- Obesity in midlife makes you 3 ½ times more likely to experience Alzheimer’s?
- Diabetes makes you twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s?
- Genetics account for only 25% of Alzheimer’s cases?
- Chronic stress may quadruple your risk?
Although you can not change your inherited genes, ethnicity, gender, or age, you can address the following risk factors:
|Alzheimer’s and Dementia Risks You Can Control or Inhibit:|
Powerful fears about Alzheimer’s may discourage you from action. Identifying and controlling your personal risk factors will improve your over-all health and go a long way towards preserving your cognitive abilities.
Particularly in western cultures where the pace of life is frantic, food is often fast and refined, and stress is rampant, brain degeneration starts imperceptibly early. Although most adults begin to notice age-related memory glitches in their 40’s and 50’s, scientists believe the neurological changes of Alzheimer’s ironically begin when the brain is at its peak… closer to age 20!
Medications and Alzheimer’s disease
Scientists are currently testing over 90 drugs to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease. If you are already experiencing memory problems, work with your doctor to diagnose and treat symptoms as soon as possible. Current medications can not reverse serious brain deterioration, but the earlier these drugs are started, the greater their potential effectiveness in slowing memory loss and preserving independence.
Create your personal anti-Alzheimer’s program now
Contrary to early beliefs about the brain’s restorative capacities, we now know brain regeneration continues through adulthood. Building brain reserves through systematic lifestyle choices is currently your best defense against Alzheimer’s disease.
The Anti Alzheimer’s Prescription, The Healthy Brain Kit, The Alzheimer’s Action Plan, and a variety of scientific resources (see references below) suggest that a multi-step approach to preventing, reducing, or delaying Alzheimer’s holds significant promise. There are no brain boosting miracles, magic potions, or secret formulas, but the anti-Alzheimer’s fundamentals are health practices that build physical and cognitive fitness:
|Strategies to Prevent and Delay Alzheimer’s Disease|
According to a recent Mayo Clinic review, no single lifestyle choice has as much impact on aging and Alzheimer’s disease as exercise. In a 2009 review of literature from the International Journal of Clinical Practice, scientists documented that over time, physical activity effectively reduces the probability of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Additional research shows those with existing cognitive problems and dementia receive a protective benefit from regular exercise.
These tips will maximize your exercise plan:
- Exercise at a moderate pace-for at least 30 minutes five times per week. Just five workouts every seven days can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 35%. When serious brain damage has already occurred, brisk walking and other cardiovascular exercise can slow further injury.
- Build muscle to pump up your brain-moderate levels of weight and resistance training not only increase muscle mass, they maintain cognitive health. Combining aerobics and strength work is better than either activity alone. Add 2-3 strength sessions to your weekly routine, and your risk of Alzheimer’s is cut in half if you are over 65.
- Stretch for success-agility not only makes you light on your feet, it improves balance and reduces head injuries. Remember the Tin Man… and reach, twist, and flex often to keep your frame limber and your brain supported.
- Think movement-those who are physically active throughout life have improved cognitive forecasts. Gardening, cleaning house, and taking the stairs build brain-healthy movement throughout the day. Look for opportunities to walk, bend, stretch, and lift your way to vitality.
Stuck on the couch?
It takes 28 days for a new routine to become habit. Write realistic goals on a workout calendar and post it on the fridge. Build in frequent rewards, and within no time, the feel-good endorphins from regular exercise will help you forget the remote…and head out the door.
In Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation and insulin resistance injure neurons and inhibit communication between brain cells. In Freedom from Disease, Alzheimer’s is described as “diabetes of the brain,” and a growing body of information suggests a strong link between metabolic disorders and the signal processing systems. In addition, the American Academy of Neurology
recently warned elevated cholesterol in your 40’s increases your risk of Alzheimer’s.
Eating habits that reduce inflammation and promote normal energy production are brain-healthy. These food tips will keep you protected:
- Follow a Mediterranean diet. Control inflammation by eating foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, cold water fish, nuts, whole grains, and abundant fresh produce. Avoid transfats, full-fat dairy products, and red meat, but treat yourself to a glass of red wine and a dark chocolate square.
- Maintain consistent levels of insulin and blood sugar. Eat several small meals throughout the day. Avoid packaged, refined, and processed foods, especially those high in sugars and white flour, which rapidly spike glucose levels and inflame your brain.
- Eat across the rainbow. Emphasize fruits and vegetables across the color spectrum to maximize protective anti-oxidants and vitamins. Daily servings of berries and green leafy vegetables should be part of a plant-centered, brain protective regimen.
- Drink tea daily. Green, white, and oolong teas are particularly brain-healthy. Drinking 2-4 cups daily has proven benefits. Although caffeine can inhibit stress reduction and become addictive, moderate coffee drinkers also enjoy reduced cognitive risks.
- Consider supplementing your diet. Vitamins, herbs, and amino acids may provide additional brain protection. Folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and fish oils are believed to preserve and improve memory. Studies of vitamin E, gingko biloba, and tumeric have yielded more disappointing results. Make sure your nutritional supplements are high quality and pure. Many supplements are contaminated with heavy metals and other harmful substances. Make sure yours are pharmaceutical grade and certified as pure. Talk to your doctor about medication interactions, and review current literature to make a personal decision about the costs and benefits of dietary supplements.
According to the 2008 Wall Street Journal review “Neurobics and Other Brain Boosters,” an active, stimulated brain reduces your odds of developing Alzheimer’s. Those who remain engaged in activities involving multiple tasks, requiring communication, interaction, and organization, who continue learning, and constantly challenge their brains earn the greatest protection.
Cross-training with these brainpower activities will keep your mind sharp:
- Set aside time each day to learn something new – read a good book, study a foreign language, play a musical instrument. The greater the novelty and challenge, the larger the deposit in your brain reserves.
- Practice memorization – start with something short and progress to the 50 U.S. capitals. Create rhymes and patterns to strengthen your memory connections.
- Solve riddles and work puzzles – brain teasers and strategy games provide great mental exercise and build your capacity to form and retain cognitive associations. Look for activities that use both sides of your brain…logic and language versus artistic and creative challenges.
- Practice the 5 W’s – observe and report like a crime detective. Keep a Who, What, Where, When, and Why list of your daily experiences. Capturing visual details keeps your neurons firing.
- Follow the road less traveled – take a new route, eat with your other hand, rearrange your computer desktop. Vary your habits regularly to create new brain pathways.
Your brain needs regular, restful sleep to process, store, and recall information. Nightly deprivation not only leaves you cranky and tired, but according to memory experts Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Gary Small, poor sleep can significantly damage your brain and central nervous system.
These tips will help you catch your Z’s and quiet the demons that keep you awake:
- Establish a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and getting up at the same time reinforces your natural circadian rhythms. Your brain’s clock responds to regularity, and long term disruption has been associated with heart disease, cancer risks, and cognitive problems.
- Set the mood. Reserve your bed for sleep (and sex), take a hot bath, and dim the lights. Brisk evening exercise, comfortable temperatures, and white noise machines can also signal your brain that it’s time for deep restorative sleep.
- Stop snoring, dear! Alcohol, smoking, sedating drugs, excess weight, high blood pressure, and clogged nasal passages can rock the timbers. Snoring may signal sleep apnea, a respiratory condition that threatens your heart and mind. A new study from the University of California at San Diego estimates seventy to eighty percent of Alzheimer’s patients experience sleep apnea. Cognition is frequently improved following Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) treatment, which mechanically regulates the rise and fall of blood pressure and oxygen to the brain.
- Quiet your inner chatter. When mental dialogues keep you awake, get up. Try reading or relaxing in another room for twenty minutes then hop back in. If repeating this cycle doesn’t work, check your stress levels. Your memory may depend on it.
Can Sleep Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?
Do you wake up refreshed? Can you remember your dreams? Deep, dreamy sleep is critical for memory formation and retention. If nightly sleep deprivation is slowing your thinking and affecting your mood, you may be at greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to USC’s Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, lifelong stress can double or quadruple your chances of Alzheimer’s disease, yet simple daily tools can minimize its effects. The harmful stress hormone cortisol hampers nerve cell growth and connection and accelerates cognitive decline, premature aging, depression, diabetes, and other assaults on your brain.
Conquer cortisol with these proven techniques:
- Breathe! Stress alters breathing rates and impacts brain oxygen levels. Turn off your stress response with quiet, deep, abdominal breathing. From momentary inhale, hold, and exhale sequences to guided group exercises, restorative breathing is powerful, simple, and free!
- Schedule daily relaxation activities – From a walk in the park or petting your cat to Tai-chi, guided imagery, or yoga, make relaxation a priority. Keeping cortisol under control requires regular effort.
- Stay connected – We are social creatures, and the most connected fare better on tests of memory and cognition. Developing a strong support system through family, friends, exercise groups, clubs, and volunteer activities improves mood and slows cognitive decline.
- Nourish inner peace – Most scientists acknowledge a strong mind-body connection, and various studies associate personal spiritual activities with better cognitive aging. Regular meditation, prayer, reflection, and religious practice may immunize you against the damaging effects of stress.
Prevention and delay strategy #6: Protect your brain
By the time Alzheimer’s disease appears, irreversible damage has already occurred. Preventing and delaying Alzheimer’s includes three protective tips:
- Avoid toxins – Among the most preventable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are smoking and heavy drinking. Not only does smoking increase the odds for those over 65 by nearly 79%, researchers at Miami’s Mt. Sinai Medical Center warn that a combination of these two behaviors reduces the age of Alzheimer’s onset by six to seven years. If you stop smoking at age, the brain benefits from improved circulation almost immediately. Brain changes from alcohol abuse can only be reversed early.
- Wear a helmet – and limit distractions. A National Institute of Health study suggests head trauma at any point in life significantly increases your risk of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Andrew Weil cautions that repeated hits in sports activities including football, soccer, and boxing, or single traumatic injuries from bicycle, skating, or motorcycle accidents make Alzheimer’s disease more likely in later life. Preserve your brain by wearing properly fitting sports helmets, buckling your seatbelt, and trip-proofing your environment. Avoid activities that compete for your attention—like driving with cell phones and running with your MP3 player. A moment’s distraction can lead to a brain-injuring thud!
- Create a brain-safe environment – The evidence on modern technology is mixed. Scientists continue to examine links between neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and exposure to environmental contaminants. UCLA’s Memory Center Director Gary Small warns that lead, pesticides, mold, and other substances in your environment may damage your brain. Studies on the impact of electromagnetic energy from cell phones are still debated. Although definitive links to Alzheimer’s can be elusive, making choices that limit chronic exposure to environmental harm makes good sense.
- Get rid of your silver fillings – Silver, or mercury amalgam fillings continually release mercury vapor which is a deadly neurotoxin and is readily absorbed into the blood stream through the mouth. Brain cells in culture exposed to mercury vapor develop the same degenerative symptoms as brain cells from Alzheimer’s patients.
Act now to prevent and delay Alzheimer’s disease
It is never too early or too late to protect yourself and your family against Alzheimer’s. Start a multi-step strategy now, and begin actively preventing or slowing this disease.
The race to cure Alzheimer’s is expected to continue for some time. Investing in your diet, exercise, mental stimulation, and rest will help you feel better now and keep your brain working stronger…longer.
Aging without getting old? It’s largely possible, according to the June issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter. Certainly, some diseases affect the quality of life and shorten life spans, but for the majority of adults, age is what one makes of it. Consider that some people seem old in their 50s and 60s, while others waltz through their 80s and 90s with a spring in their steps. The Mayo Clinic Health Letter offers ingredients for an “anti-aging potion.” Exercise: Being active and getting regular, moderately intense exercise is probably the No. 1 way to slow the aging process and improve vitality. Exercise can lower blood pressure and improve bone strength and cholesterol numbers. People often experience increased energy and strength with just a few sessions of physical activity. Exercise also can reduce stress and improve mood and sleep. A plan that includes at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, on most days of the week is recommended. The benefits are even greater when the exercise regimen includes strengthening exercises two or three times a week. Healthy diet: A healthy diet is the foundation for maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight if needed. For those who are overweight, weight loss from even a small reduction in body fat – about 5 to 10 percent – may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Regular doctor visits: Regular visits allow a doctor to watch for signs of disease, through activities such as screening for certain cancers and other problems. And regular visits are important to managing ongoing medical concerns and medications. Brain challenges: Staying mentally fit falls into the “use it or lose it” category. Brains benefit from challenges, such as regularly reading, taking classes, learning new skills or engaging in stimulating conversations. Research shows that older adults with normal brain aging can learn just as well as younger adults, and it’s possible to increase brain cell connections regardless of age. Social connections: Social connections play a vital role in health and well-being, especially during times of change and transition that occur with aging, such as retirement, death of a loved one or downsizing a home. Connections with friends, relatives, a religious community or even a pet are motivators to stay healthy. Social connections can reduce stress and anxiety, protect against mental decline and provide a sense of purpose. Optimistic attitude: Although pessimism can be deeply ingrained in one’s personality, it’s never too late to examine thoughts, viewpoints and actions that sour one’s attitude. Bad things happen to everyone, but optimists tend to look for the positive, count their blessings, savor good times and simple pleasures and practice kindness to others as a way to direct thoughts beyond themselves (see also Mayo Clinic).
Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today’s health and medical news. To subscribe, please call 1-800-333-9037 (toll-free), extension 9771, or visit www.HealthLetter.MayoClinic.com.
A cocktail of vitamins, minerals and herbals may delay the major aspects of the ageing process and extend lifespan by 10 per cent, according to a mouse study from Canada.
2010, Vol. 235, Pages 66-76, doi:10.1258/ebm.2009.009219
“Dietary amelioration of locomotor, neurotransmitter and mitochondrial aging”
Authors: V. Aksenov, J. Long, S. Lokuge, J.A. Foster, J. Liu, C.D. Rollo