10 Steps to Avoid Alzheimer’s
Every 71 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s Facts and Figures. While over 5 million people in the United States are already living with the disease, it’s estimated that 10 million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer’s during their lifetime — and this number is expected to triple by 2050.
Simple and enjoyable things like playing cards with your friends, doing crossword puzzles, and going to family get-togethers can keep your mind sharp well into your older years.
The prevalence has grown so much in recent years that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, even surpassing diabetes.
Aside from the devastating emotional toll this disease takes on those afflicted and their families, it also costs the United States more than $148 billion each year.
The Most Common Form of Dementia
Dementia is a loss or decline in memory and other cognitive abilities that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60 percent to 80 percent of cases.
On a scientific level, Alzheimer’s disease can be recognized by deposits of the protein fragment beta-amyloid in the brain (more commonly known as “plaques”) along with twisted strands of the protein tau (tangles), the Alzheimer’s Association reports.
In terms of physical and mental symptoms, Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by:
- Difficulty remembering names and recent events (a typical early symptoms)
- Impaired judgment
- Behavior changes
- Trouble speaking, swallowing and walking
Among those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, there is advanced brain shrinkage due to cell loss and from widespread debris from dead and dying neurons (nerve cells in your brain).
The causes of this damage are still unknown, and the greatest risk factor for the disease is also rather ambiguous; it’s aging.
This does not mean, however, that there’s nothing you can do to change your risk of this disease. In fact, there are several natural methods that may help to support your brain health, and prevent Alzheimer’s disease, no matter what your age.
Top 10 Tips to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
1. Add More Fruits and Vegetables to Your Diet
One of the best defenses against this disease appears to be in the food you eat. A study published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that people who eat the recommended amount of folate have a much lower risk of developing the disease.
Folates are B-vitamins found in leafy green vegetables, oranges, legumes and bananas.
But, “Although folates appear to be more beneficial than other nutrients, the primary message should be that overall healthy diets seem to have an impact on limiting Alzheimer’s disease risk,” said Maria Corrada of the University of California Irvine’s Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia, who co-led the study. Antioxidant-rich foods are also extremely important.
2. Give Your Lifestyle an Upgrade
“The same factors that put you at risk of heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, may also increase the likelihood that you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
This means that leading a healthy lifestyle by avoiding tobacco, excess alcohol, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight may help keep your brain as healthy as your heart.
“The major way we’ve reduced the death rate from heart disease is through lifestyle changes: eating better, exercising more, smoking less,” said David A. Bennett of Rush University in Chicago. “It would require a lot of people to change the way they live, but there’s no reason to think we can’t have the same impact on Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.”
3. Get Active
Numerous studies have shown that exercising, even modestly, reduces the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
“Walking 45 minutes three times a week for six months significantly improved mental ability of older adults with no dementia; a randomly selected control group that did stretching and toning had no change,” says Arthur Kramer, a psychologist at the University of Illinois.
Another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine also found that seniors who did as little as 15 minutes a day of modest exercise three times a week reduced their risk of developing dementia by about 30 percent.
4. If You Have Diabetes, Control It
Poorly controlled diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, so if you have this condition be sure to eat right and exercise regularly and supplement healthfully to keep it under control.
5. Don’t Overdo Omega-6 Fats
Omega-6 fats, found in most vegetable oils as well as red meat, poultry, cereals, eggs and nuts, are essential for a healthy brain, as they help to form the membranes that protect brain cells.
However, this is a case where “a lot” is not necessarily better. A recent study by researchers at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Diseases in San Francisco found that raised levels of arachidonic acid, a type of omega-6 fat, is associated with Alzheimer’s. The researchers believe it interferes with the brain’s nerve cells.
In the United States, vegetable oils are a major source of omega-6 fats. If you’re looking to cut back on it, eliminating processed foods from your diet (which almost always contain vegetable oil) would be a sensible step.
A massive new study has shown that living near high-voltage power lines may double your risk of Alzheimer’s.
6. Stimulate Your Brain
“A lifetime of intellectual curiosity and mental stimulation” may help to promote brain health, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In fact, numerous studies suggest that stimulating your brain as you age can ward off dementia and cognitive decline.
And according to the Mayo Clinic, “Some researchers believe that lifelong mental exercise and learning may promote the growth of additional synapses, the connections between neurons, and delay the onset of dementia.”
Yaakov Stern, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, agrees.
“Just keeping busy seems to tune the brain,” he says. In a seven-year study of 1,800 older adults, Stern found that the more “leisure pursuits” a person had, the lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Leisure pursuits included:
- Visiting friends
- Playing cards
- Going to the movies
You can also try crossword puzzles, games like chess and checkers, reading, attending a lecture, volunteering or taking a class that interests you.
7. Stay Social
A robust social life also appears to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, according to a study in the September 2008 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
Those who participated in home and family activities, visited friends and relatives, attended parties, card games and other club activities and had home hobbies were less likely to develop the disease, researchers found.
“These activities might be indicative of an enriched environment, which has been shown in animal models to enhance the creation of new brain cells and promote brain repair,” said study author Michelle C. Carlson, an associate professor in the department of mental health and the Center on Aging and Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and colleagues.
8. Avoid Head Injuries
Research has uncovered a strong link between serious head injury and Alzheimer’s. You can reduce your risk of head injury reduce your risk of head injury by always wearing a seat belt while driving, wearing a helmet on a motorcycle or bicycle and making sure to remove tripping hazards around your home.
9. Relax and Stay Positive
According to the Center for Healthy Minds, elderly people who experience a lot of psychological distress (worrying, feeling insecure or nervous) are more likely to show signs of mental decline. In fact, one study found that people prone to high levels of distress were twice as likely to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease after five years as those who were prone to low levels of distress.
Further, adults who suffer from depression have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than those who show few or no depressive symptoms. For nutritional support for adults who suffer depression and resulting mental decline, use a magnesium supplement that can crosses the blood brain barrier effectively.
10. Don’t Live Near High-Voltage Power Lines
A major new study based on nearly 5 million people in Switzerland found that those who live within 50 meters of a power line more than double their risk of Alzheimer’s and other neuro-degenerative disease, compared with those who live at least 600 meters away.
Before you put your house on the market, keep in mind that this study involved 220-380 kV power lines, which are extra high voltage lines used for long distance, very high power transmission. In contrast, power lines used to connect a typical residential customer to a utility would be less than 1,000 volts (volts not kV).
American Journal of Epidemiology
Nature Neuroscience, 11, 1311-1318
MayoClinic.com Alzheimer’s Disease