Strategies To Sharpen Your Mind And Fend Off Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions and is the most common cause of dementia, affecting over five million Americans.1 The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not yet fully understood. While early-onset Alzheimer’s is usually caused because of a genetic mutation, late-onset Alzheimer’s arises from a complex series of brain changes that occur over decades. The causes of Alzheimer’s disease may include,

  • Genetic factors
  • Environmental factors
  • Lifestyle factors2

The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years after the age of 65. Alzheimer’s becomes increasingly common when people reach their 80s and 90s.3

Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease usually occurs during the 30s to mid-60s and represents less than 10 percent of all people with Alzheimer’s.4 During the early onset of Alzheimer’s, although symptoms are rarely seen, toxic changes progressively occur in the brain. Over time, the neurons lose the ability to

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transmit messages and are eventually destroyed. Soon, the damage spreads to the hippocampus (a structure in the brain essential in forming memories). As more neurons are damaged, the affected areas in the brain begin to shrink. In the final stage of Alzheimer’s, many other areas of the brain are damaged, and the person has a complete memory loss and is totally dependent on the caregiver.

Hence, it is important for even people in their 30s to keep their brain as active as possible so that the onset of the disease can be prevented or delayed. Here are five proven methods to keep your mind in shape to keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay.

1. Regular Exercise

Regular exercise can prevent brain cell degeneration

Since poor overall health has been associated with greater symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, maintaining a healthy lifestyle may reduce symptoms.5 Studies show that physical exercise plays an important role in reducing

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the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline. Exercise increases the number of small blood vessels that supply blood to the brain and the number of connections between nerve cells. Researchers observed that exercise increases the level of a nerve growth factor in an area of the brain that is associated with memory and learning. Exercise stimulates the human brain’s ability to maintain old network connections and generate new connections.

Walking has a beneficial impact on people with Alzheimer’s. A study involving older people who walked regularly showed a positive result with improved connectivity in the part of the brain engaged in daydreaming, envisioning the future, and recalling the past. They also had improved executive function, the ability to plan and organize tasks.6 Studies on people with Alzheimer’s show that light exercise and walking can reduce wandering, aggression, and agitation. Regular exercise and scheduled activities can also help reduce behavior problems. The type of exercise should be customized to the person’s abilities.7

2. Healthy Diet

Healthy diet can help restore brain health

Diet is of utmost importance not just in people with Alzheimer’s disease, but even among healthy individuals. Numerous studies suggest that eating certain foods can help in keeping the brain healthy and detrimental to cognitive health. A diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and is low in fat and added sugar can reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. Studies are also underway to ascertain whether a healthy diet can help preserve cognitive function or reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.8

A diet rich in vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, is associated with a reduced rate of cognitive decline.9 Deeply colored plant foods contain numerous beneficial nutrients. For instance, spinach is rich in antioxidant beta-carotene and vitamins

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C and K, while hot peppers have anti-inflammatory capsaicin – all of which protect brain cells.

3. Meditation

Meditation helps in keeping the brain cells healthy

Meditation is a wonderful practice that has immense potential in treating various disorders. Ever wondered how Buddhist monks are so calm, healthy, and cheerful? Meditation is the answer. Combining simple deep breathing techniques with meditation can lower blood pressure and improve cardiac health. A recent study has shown that meditation plays an important role in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s. 10

Research has found that intense concentration and relaxation can aid the growth of new brain cells, protecting against the brain shrinkage linked to Alzheimer’s. Meditation reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which increases the risk of developing dementia. It also enables patients to feel calmer, reduces perceived stress and the risk of Alzheimer’s.

4. Stimulate Brain

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Staying cognitively active through social engagement or intellectual stimulation is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Mind stimulating activities like reading books and magazines, attending lectures, and playing games keep the brain active and sharp. A study involving healthy older people found a close relationship between frequent social activity and better cognitive function.

A more recent study showed that people with less education who engaged in activities like reading, doing crossword puzzles, and writing letters performed well in memory tests, much like their better-educated peers. Having fewer years of education has been associated with a higher risk of dementia.11 Higher levels of education seem to protect against Alzheimer’s, possibly because the brain cells and their connections are stronger. Well-educated individuals can still develop Alzheimer’s, but the symptoms may appear much later because of this protective effect.

5. Other Diseases

Often, other diseases can cause

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brain health decline and thus increase the chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Elderly people must ensure their health and monitor blood pressure and sugar levels regularly. Age-related diseases and health conditions such as vascular disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline. Specific studies are trying to understand if this risk can be reduced by preventing or controlling these diseases and conditions through medication or by making changes in diet and exercise.

Evidence points to the possible relation between vascular diseases and Alzheimer’s risk. High cholesterol levels and obesity during midlife, which are known risk factors for heart diseases, have also been linked to increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. High blood pressure is another risk factor and ensuring that blood pressure does not exceed healthy limits should be a priority among the elderly. Diabetes is another disease that is linked to Alzheimer’s. Research suggests that abnormal insulin production can result in brain changes that are related to Alzheimer’s disease.12

To

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summarize, keeping your mind active and meditation can possibly lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Don’t wait until you are in your mid-30s to begin your exercise regime. The sooner you start, the better. If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, regular exercise that suits your ability and a nutritious diet may improve the quality of life and help you cope better with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

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