If you've ever seen a loved one suffer through Alzheimer's disease or dementia, you're aware of the crippling effects it can have on a mind and body that were once so vibrant and active. And as common as Alzheimer's disease is today, research suggests that as the population grows older, the economic burden of the disease could double by 2040. And although the Alzheimer's Association says that further scientifically-based large-scale studies are needed to back up some proposed methods, other research suggests that we can try to prevent Alzheimer's through lifestyle changes.
Stop smoking: As if there weren't enough incentive to quit smoking already, tobacco use can damage your blood vessels and brain cells. Vascular dementia occurs when blood vessels that provide your brain with oxygen are damaged and your brain becomes oxygen-deprived.
Lead a physically active lifestyle. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50 percent. Regular exercise can also slow further cognitive deterioration in those who have already started to develop cognitive problems. If you've been inactive for a while, getting back into the swing of things can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Joining a gym is not your only option when it comes to getting active. You could also do small things like parking your car at the far end of the parking lot, taking the stairs at work, and using a pedometer to reach a goal of 10,000 step a day.
Lead a mentally active lifestyle. Keeping your mind sharp as a tack can certainly help slow cognitive deterioration. Learning something new every day, memorizing all 50 state capitals, playing crosswords or Sudoku, and even changing up habits like your route to work can help keep your mind active.
Take care of your heart. In essence, if it's good for your heart, it's good for your brain. Think about it: Your heart pumps your blood to your brain. If your heart isn't pumping as much blood as it should be, your brain becomes deprived of the blood, oxygen and nutrients it needs for proper function. The Alzheimer's Association says that up to 80 percent of autopsies performed on those who had Alzheimer's show that they also had cardiovascular disease. Controlling cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol could be one of the best ways to protect patients from developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
Eat a healthy diet. Diets full of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats are key to preventing Alzheimer's or dementia. The Mediterranean diet protects aging brains — a diet that includes olive oil as the main source of fat, plus plenty of fruits, vegetables, pulses (legumes), a moderate-to-high amount of fish/seafood, low quantity of dairy products and red meat, and moderate amounts of wine has been shown to protect older people at risk of vascular dementia, scientists from the University of Navarra, Spain, reported. Did you catch that little bit about wine? Grape skin contains components that protect your brain cells from the toxic effect of oxidative stress and beta amyloid.
Have strong social support. An active social life and strong network of friends and family may help prevent Alzheimer's later in life. What does that mean? Continue with the lunch outings with your girlfriends and family dinners with the in-laws.
Alzheimer's and dementia are scary and frustrating for everyone involved. We can't change our genes, but by taking the right precautions we may be able to prevent or delay the onset of memory loss.