Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Prevented?
The number of Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease is growing – and growing fast. In the U.S. alone, someone develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds. By 2050, it’s believed those numbers will increase to include a new diagnosis every 33 seconds.
In 2018, it’s estimated that 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. All but two hundred thousand of those individuals are over the age of 65; the remaining two hundred thousand are dealing with younger-onset Alzheimer’s. This translates to 10% of people age 65 and older living with an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. Other sobering statistics include:
- Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the fifth-leading cause of death for persons aged 65 and older
- It’s the only top 10 cause of death that has no cure
- More people die as a result of Alzheimer’s than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined
- The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is projected to increase to nearly 14 million people by the year 2050
- In the 15 years between 2000 and 2015, heart disease caused deaths decreased by 11% while deaths resulting from Alzheimer’s increased a whopping 123%
With statistics like these, is it any wonder that many people are searching for ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease? It’s a question that continues to intrigue researchers the world over. Since there currently is no cure for this devastating disease, it’s more important than ever to seek ways to prevent it, or at the very minimum, lower your chances of getting it.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
Although experts still don’t understand what causes Alzheimer’s, they agree that like many other common chronic conditions, it’s likely the result of an interaction between multiple factors which may include genetics, lifestyle choices, age, environment and coexisting medical conditions. You don’t have any control over risk factors such as genetics or age; however, you have full control over others. In fact, many of the actions you can do that are good for your heart – and the rest of your body – may also help prevent Alzheimer’s and slow the progression of the disease once it has begun. These actions may decrease the effects of brain damage caused by dementia by developing more neural connections between the remaining brain cells. With more neural connections, brain function may be maintained longer despite the disease processes.
What Can I Do to Lower My Risk of Alzheimer’s?
Exercise Your Brain
Cognitive stimulation strengthens your existing brains cells, increases the strength and number of neural connections, and slightly increases the total number of brain cells. Take part in mentally stimulating activities, continue learning new things and be social. People who do brain training are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. Cognitive exercises that are particularly effective include learning anything new, playing a musical instrument, dancing, playing board games, reading challenging material and solving puzzles.
Regular physical exercise increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, leading to increased brain health just as it leads to better overall health in the rest of the body. Physical exercise improves cognitive functioning while reducing cognitive decline. Research indicates that it doesn’t have to be extreme to be beneficial – exercising just a few times a week decreases your risk of developing dementia. Taking part in a variety of activities provides greater benefits; and, benefits are seen even when exercise routines are established later in life.
Prevent Brain Injuries
Protect your brain. There is a correlation between traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and dementia. This means that brain injuries, such as concussions, make it more likely for a person to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Many athletes who take part in sports where head injuries occur – such as football, soccer and boxing – are at serious risk of developing dementia. Veterans who sustained TBIs are also developing dementia. Studies indicate that a person who has a moderate to severe TBI is between two and four times more likely to develop dementia. Even multiple mild TBIs are associated with a high risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of dementia.
This means it’s important to do what you can to protect your brain from injury. Wear seat belts. Wear helmets when bicycling or riding a motorcycle. Take measures to prevent falls by fall-proofing your home.
Manage Your Numbers
Keeping your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels within normal limits is important for people who want to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. There is a strong connection between Alzheimer’s and conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol. Some autopsy studies have shown that as many as 80% of persons with Alzheimer’s disease also had cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately, many people don’t know they have these conditions and are not treating them, thereby increasing their chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Managing these conditions is important for your overall health as well as being important in the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
Older adults who regularly take part in social activities have less cognitive decline than those who don’t. In fact, studies indicate that lonely people are more likely to develop dementia. Social activities promote new neural connections in the brain. From going to a local senior center to taking part in volunteer activities to weekly outings with friends, socialization is both easy and important.
The Right Amount of Sleep is Important
Adequate sleep is important to brain health and lowers the risk of age-related cognitive decline. People who have conditions like sleep apnea or insomnia, causing them to not get enough sleep, often experience problems with thinking and memory.
Studies suggest that poor sleep can cause cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Even sleeping too much can cause cognitive problems. In a review of more than 30,000 people, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, it was reported that older adults who slept less than six hours and more than nine had substantially lower cognitive scores. In another study, amyloid protein in the brain was measured. Results indicated that people who didn’t experience enough slow-wave deep sleep experienced cognitive difficulties. Slow-wave deep sleep is believed to clear out amyloid protein which is closely linked to Alzheimer’s.
Aim for seven to eight hours per night. If you struggle getting enough sleep, having good sleep hygiene will help. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and electronics in the evening are highly recommended for a good night’s sleep.
Take Care of Mental Health
Taking care of your mental health is important for the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Some studies indicate that anxiety and depression may increase a person’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. Even stress, especially chronic stress can have devastating effects on the brain.
Stress, anxiety and depression all have toxic effects on the brain, especially the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for both long- and short-term memory) contributing to memory problems in the future. Additionally, stress interferes with cardiovascular health which we’ve already shown to be important to brain health.
Drink a Little Wine … or Not
There is conflicting evidence as to the benefits of drinking red wine to prevent dementia as evidenced by these two articles, Red Wine Consumption Could Fight Dementia and What are the Links Between Alcohol and Dementia? There are many arguments towards both predilections, so you’ll have to make your own call. There is one factor that everyone agrees on, however. The American Heart Association recommends no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two for men. One drink is defined as 4 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer. So, if you do decide to imbibe, do so in moderation.
Control Your Weight
Keep your weight in check – your body and brain will thank you for it. Shedding those excess pounds and taking measures to keep them off can lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
A recent study indicates that as a person ages and is obese as the result of a high-sugar, high-fat diet, the excess weight may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s because of the neurodegeneration of the hippocampus – the part of the brain most responsible for the making and preservation of memories. The study supports the notion that aging alone is a risk factor with obesity exacerbating the effects of aging on brain function.
Eat a Healthy and Balanced Diet
Maintain your weight by eating a heart-healthy diet – one filled with lots of vegetables, fruit, lean protein, whole grains, legumes and low-fat dairy. Red meat, saturated fats and sugar should be limited.
There is a connection between heart health and brain health. Heart health means blood can flow freely to provide nourishment to the brain. Although research concerning the association between cognitive function and diet is limited, certain diets may help thwart Alzheimer’s or slow its progression. Certain diets such as the Mediterranean and the Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) may reduce your risk.
The parts of the brain linked to mental health, learning and memory are reduced in people who consume lots of soft drinks, potato chips, hamburgers and fries. On the other hand, leafy greens, berries, nuts and whole grains have been shown to slow mental decline and preserve brain function.
Junk food inflames the brain. Inflammation is bad for the body – it is the most common underlying cause of most, if not all, major degenerative diseases. Australian researchers have shown that as little as five days on a sugary diet caused increased inflammation in the hippocampus – the part of the brain most responsible for storing memories.
Junk food diminishes the brain’s learning abilities. Because of the damage to the hippocampus caused by inflammation, neuroplasticity is affected making it more difficult to learn new things and remember what you do learn.
Junk food reduces neurogenesis (the birth of new brain cells). Newly born neurons (brain cells) have high levels of neuroplasticity. Older neurons cannot do the job as well, leading to a reduction in learning proficiency and less ability to perform memory retrieval and storage. Additionally, reductions in young neurons can result in mental health disorders such as depression.
Junk food causes impulsivity. Research has shown that consuming sugary foods at a young age can alter brain development, leading to impulsivity and difficulty in following rules as adults.
Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Prevented?
While the research is not yet fully conclusive, certain lifestyle choices support brain health and may go a long way towards the prevention of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Not only do these lifestyle choices affect brain health, but they are also beneficial in the prevention of other diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which have a strong link to Alzheimer’s and dementia. The choice is yours, but it seems you have much to gain by taking these healthy lifestyle choices to heart, and a whole lot to lose by not making the same choices.
Alzheimer’s Care at The Brielle
In short, make as many healthy lifestyle choices as possible if you want to do all you can to prevent Alzheimer’s. Your whole body will benefit. If you do all you can but still develop Alzheimer’s, The Brielle at Seaview is here to help. In our ValeoTM neighborhood, we offer compassionate memory care. If you are responsible for the care of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, we offer respite care, as well, so you can take some time to take care of yourself. Please contact us if you have any questions or want to know more about memory care options at The Brielle.