Dementia was reported to be the 7th leading cause of global deaths in 2015 by the World Health Organization.1 Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is characterized by brain cell death and declining brain function. What makes this fatal condition as scary as it is, is the fact that a cure hasn’t been found till date.2 Researchers are therefore actively working toward finding preventive strategies to combat this disorder.
Some of the risk factors associated with this condition like genetics and age cannot be controlled. Other risk factors like cardiovascular health, fitness, diet, and sleep can be improved. Some studies suggest that these improvements may make a difference in lowering risk of Alzheimer’s. It is essential to note that making these improvements do not completely eliminate the risk of Alzheimer’s. Further studies need to be conducted to measure the success rate of these preventive strategies. That being said, here is a list of healthy practices that may help you reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
1. Maintain Cardiovascular Health
Studies have found that there may be a connection between cardiovascular health and Alzheimer’s disease.3 As a result, lowering risk factors contributing to cardiovascular disease may also help prevent or delay the onset of dementia. Some of the risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular ailments include:
Blood Pressure: High blood pressure can damage and weaken your body’s blood vessels and can cause heart failure. The normal blood pressure range should be below 120/80 mm Hg and above 90/60 mm Hg. A few self-care tips to help control your blood pressure include participating in regular physical exercise, stress management, and maintaining a low-sodium diet. Reducing excess weight, nicotine, and alcohol will also help keep your BP in check.
Blood Sugar Levels: Having increased blood sugar levels for an extended period of time can cause damage to nerves, blood vessels, and organs among other things. The normal blood sugar range is between 72 to 108 mg/dL when fasting and up to 140 mg/dL two hours post eating. Blood sugar levels can be controlled by exercising regularly, maintaining a low-carb and high fiber diet, staying hydrated, and controlling stress levels.
Cholesterol: Cholesterol buildup can block arteries thereby obstructing the flow of blood. It can also lead to the formation of blood clots which ultimately puts your heart at risk. An ideal cholesterol range is 60 mg/dL or higher for HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol (these numbers are considered to be proactive against heart disease by the NIH) and 100 mg/dL or lesser of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol (considered to be optimal level by NIH).4 Cholesterol levels can be controlled by avoiding saturated and trans fats while consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and soluble fiber. Apart from a controlled healthy diet, also incorporate plenty of exercises and avoid excessive smoking.
2. Incorporate Daily Physical Exercise
There is an increasing body of research that suggests that regular physical activity and exercise may help lower the risk of dementia or may help delay its onset.5 6 It is recommended to incorporate at least 15-30 minutes of moderately intense exercise per day. This ensures blood circulation to the brain and helps maintain overall health. Physical exercise also helps reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
3. Follow A Healthy Diet
The brain depends on a healthy cardiovascular system for its supply of blood and oxygen. As a result, following a diet that is heart-healthy will ultimately benefit the brain. The Mediterranean diet is a widely recommended heart-healthy diet you can follow.7 It emphasizes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, healthy fats from olive oil and canola oil, seafood, and poultry; while limiting the consumption of salt, unhealthy fats, and red meat.
4. Ensure You’re Getting Adequate Sleep
Studies have found that sleep deprivation is another risk factor that may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.8 It is therefore essential to establish regular sleep patterns and ensure an increased quality of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that an individual avoid stimulants such as light emitted from electronic gadgets, caffeine, and nicotine before bed. It also recommends limiting daytime naps, exercising before bed, and ensuring adequate exposure to natural light to promote quality of sleep.9
5. Engage In Socializing Activities
Some studies suggest that social connectedness may play a role in delaying the onset of dementia although the further studies need to be conducted to find substantial evidence. Social networking has proven to have a large number of benefits in improving and maintaining overall physical and mental wellbeing.10
6. Never Stop Learning
Participate in activities that stimulate your cognitive abilities. There exists some research that suggests individuals with greater cognitive reserve and activity may be at lesser risk of developing Alzheimer’s.11 Apart from your regular quota of physical exercise, you can spend a few minutes a day practicing cognitive exercises that have been found to improve overall brain performance in older adults.12
|↑1||The top 10 causes of death. World Health Organization. 2017.|
|↑2||What We Know Today About Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. Alzheimer’s Association.|
|↑3||Luchsinger, J. A., Christiane Reitz, Larry S. Honig, Ming-Xin Tang, Steven Shea, and Richard Mayeux. “Aggregation of vascular risk factors and risk of incident Alzheimer disease.” Neurology 65, no. 4 (2005): 545-551.|
|↑4||Measuring Cholesterol Levels. NIH MedlinePlus. 2012.|
|↑5||Rolland, Yves, Gabor Abellan van Kan, and Bruno Vellas. “Physical activity and Alzheimer’s disease: from prevention to therapeutic perspectives.” Journal of the American Medical Directors Association 9, no. 6 (2008): 390-405.|
|↑6||Lautenschlager, Nicola T., Kay L. Cox, Leon Flicker, Jonathan K. Foster, Frank M. van Bockxmeer, Jianguo Xiao, Kathryn R. Greenop, and Osvaldo P. Almeida. “Effect of physical activity on cognitive function in older adults at risk for Alzheimer disease: a randomized trial.” Jama 300, no. 9 (2008): 1027-1037.|
|↑7||De Lorgeril, Michel, Serge Renaud, P. Salen, I. Monjaud, N. Mamelle, J. L. Martin, Jeannine Guidollet, Paul Touboul, and Jacques Delaye. “Mediterranean alpha-linolenic acid-rich diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease.” The Lancet 343, no. 8911 (1994): 1454-1459.|
|↑8||Ju, Yo-El S., Brendan P. Lucey, and David M. Holtzman. “Sleep and Alzheimer disease pathology [mdash] a bidirectional relationship.” Nature reviews Neurology 10, no. 2 (2014): 115-119.|
|↑9||SLEEP HYGIENE. National Sleep Foundation.|
|↑10||Berkman, Lisa F. “The role of social relations in health promotion.” Psychosomatic medicine 57, no. 3 (1995): 245-254.|
|↑11||Stern, Yaakov. “Cognitive reserve in ageing and Alzheimer’s disease.” The Lancet Neurology 11, no. 11 (2012): 1006-1012.|
|↑12||Valenzuela, Michael, and Perminder Sachdev. “Can cognitive exercise prevent the onset of dementia? Systematic review of randomized clinical trials with longitudinal follow-up.” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 17, no. 3 (2009): 179-187.|