I have witnessed the limiting effects of Alzheimer's Disease in my grandfather, not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a family member and caregiver. I have seen this illness affect my grandmother, my mother, aunts, uncles, and other family members. My experiences are what led me to conduct my own research on potential ways to prevent Alzheimer's Disease.
As of today, there is unfortunately no cure for Alzheimer's. However, promising research has shown that there are lifestyle habits that can be incorporated into our daily lives which can delay the onset, slow the progression, and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's by years and perhaps even decades. Below, I have listed a few practical, research-proven strategies to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease.
Getting regular exercise
Everyone's definition of exercise varies. On a basic level, exercise involves moving your body in order to raise your heart rate. That can include walking, running, dancing, swimming, gardening — even aerobics while seated. It really does not matter what exercise you do, as long as you do it on a regular, consistent basis. To get the most benefit, the activity should raise your heart rate to the point of sweating. You are more likely to continue the activity if it is something that you enjoy, so incorporate friends if need be. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and can help to keep thinking and memory skills sharp (in fact, exercise is important for current Alzheimer's patients, as well). Being active also helps to decrease your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and body fat levels—which are three health issues that increase your risk for Alzheimer's. An added benefit is that exercise also helps improve mood and cognition. A good goal to start with is a 30 minute walk five times per week, then increasing the duration and intensity over time. Always talk to your healthcare provider about any medical conditions before starting a new exercise plan.
Eat a brain-healthy diet
Research has shown that there are foods that can increase your risk for Alzheimer's Disease and foods that can lower your risk. Spend time incorporating foods designed to promote a healthy brain. The ten best brain foods include leafy green vegetables, other vegetables, seeds, nuts, berries (especially blueberries), beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and red wine or grape juice. This diet not only promotes brain health, but it also promotes heart health as well.
A brain-healthy diet is a heart-healthy diet, and includes eating foods that are low in added salt, refined (white) sugars, and saturated fat such as butter. Diets high in added salt can increase your risk for developing high blood pressure. Diets high in saturated fat can increase your risk for heart disease.
Diets high in refined sugars may increase your risk for Type 2 Diabetes. These are all conditions that may increase your risk for developing Alzheimer's Disease. If you have any of these conditions, talk with your doctor to have regular screening tests to check if they are improving or worsening. Be sure to also request a meeting with a nutritionist to review your current diet and to receive suggestions and recipes on how to make what you eat more healthy.
Keeping the brain active
Keeping your brain active by solving puzzles like crosswords, Sudoku, or cryptograms can help to improve brain function, memory and delay the onset of Alzheimer's. Many of these puzzles can be found as cell phone applications, or even published in the newspaper. These games involve using strategy and memorization, which are fun tools for improving your brain health to keep your memory sharp. You can also keep your brain active by staying connected to family members and friends by having lunch dates, taking walks with peers, and attending church club activities. You can even have a regular social meeting time to play games in groups as a way to socialize regularly with friends.
(Editor's Note: If you want to learn more about how Alzheimer's Disease is diagnosed, check out this article!)