Written about frequently in medical journals, Alzheimer's disease is one that's been widely studied, but is still an anomaly to many scientists. Since, June is Alzheimer's Awareness Month, it's a good time to look at what we do know, along with things one can do to prevent it.
Alzheimer's disease is not just "normal aging" and it isn't simply memory loss, either. In fact, Alzheimer's is a progressive and fatal disease that affects memory, cognition and behavior.
According to the Alzheimer's Association:
- Alzheimer's and other dementias are the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, affecting over 5 million Americans.
- Of those affected, over two thirds are women.
- One in ten people ages 65 and older have the disease.
Researchers don't know what causes Alzheimer's, but suspect that it's a combination of genetics, environment, and lifestyle. Unfortunately, there is no research that definitively shows which lifestyle habits will help to slow or prevent dementia. However, there are several lifestyle habits that have been associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's, and many of them will also benefit your overall health.
Here are 10 things that may help to reduce your risk of Alzheimer's and dementia:
- Exercise: Physical exercise is good for your body, brain, and mood, so get moving.
- Avoid alcohol: Especially if you tend to overdo it, abstinence is the best policy when it comes to alcohol. Moderate consumption is OK, but make sure you're really meeting those criteria: no more than one drink (one beer or 5 oz of wine) for women and two for men per day.
- Maintain your general health: People with Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure seem to have a much higher incidence of Alzheimer's, so work closely with your doctor to keep these chronic conditions under control.
- Treat mental health conditions: Depression, in particular, has also been connected to an increased rate of Alzheimer's.
- Keep learning: Staying mentally active has been associated with increased cognitive function in older adults. Whether it's reading, doing crossword puzzles, taking an online class, or attending a workshop, find something that you enjoy doing to challenge your brain on a regular basis.
- Eat your fish and vegetables: Omega 3 fatty acids and folic acid are two of the most promising nutrients when it comes to protecting the brain from degeneration. Get Omega 3s by eating fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and lake trout; and folic acid from dark, leafy greens and vegetables (like kale, spinach, and broccoli); garbanzo and other beans, citrus fruits and avocados.
- Be social: Cultivating an active lifestyle is a necessity for living well, and may offer some protection from Alzheimer's. Plus, a lack of social connection is detrimental to your health all around.
- Don't smoke: Smoking dramatically increases your chances of developing Alzheimer's and other dementias; and that includes regular exposure to secondhand smoke, too.
- Protect your head: Traumatic brain injury can increase your risk of Alzheimer's, so protect your head when playing sports or doing outdoor activities, and always wear your seatbelt.
- Scale back on sugar: Some experts are calling Alzheimer's "Type 3 diabetes," and researchers are investigating a link between insulin resistance and Alzheimer's disease later in life.
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