Alzheimer’s May Be Preventable
Tomorrow is World Alzheimer’s Day. The statistics remain grim. And there is still no cure in sight.
But there is hope. A team of experts created a bit of a stir this year at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference when they declared that one-third of all cases of dementia could be prevented through lifestyle changes.
So, is Alzheimer’s preventable? For some, it seems the answer is “yes.” Certainly, there are lifestyle choices one can make to help reduce the risk and keep your brain performing at its peak. Here are some of the most important things you can do to keep your brain healthy.
Keep your mind active
A study conducted by Rush University found that people who engaged in mentally stimulating activities – from reading a newspaper to playing chess to learning a new skill – were 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia that someone who was mentally inactive. Arnold Scheibel, head of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute notes that “anything that’s intellectually challenging can probably serve as a kind of stimulus for dendritic growth, which means it adds to the computational reserves in the brain.” In other words, engaging your mind encourages brain cells to grow, which may lessen the effects of dementia, even where beta-amyloid deposits are present.
According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing the disease by 50 percent, something we discussed in this blog post. This finding was corroborated by John Medina, an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He claims that aerobic exercise can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half. In a study that was part of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, researchers found that midlife moderate exercise reduced the likelihood of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by 39 percent; moderate exercise in late life reduced the chances of developing MCI, which increases your likelihood of developing dementia, by 32 percent.
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston had people between the ages of 55 and 90, all of whom had MCI, do a guided meditation for 15 to 30 minutes a day and practice yoga for at least two hours a week for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, participants showed an overall improvement in cognition and well-being. Their MRIs showed a slowing of brain shrinkage and improved functional connectivity compared to the group who didn’t meditate. A study from UCLA discovered that long-term meditators had bigger brains that non-meditators. Smaller brains have been identified as a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
Get more sleep
Several studies have shown that your brain has a wonderful way of eliminating toxic waste, including beta-amyloid proteins. These studies also discovered that the system that accomplishes this feat is 10 times more active during sleep. So if you’re not getting enough quality sleep, your brain can’t eliminate waste efficiently. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that poor sleep caused more buildup of beta-amyloid proteins and that this buildup affected people’s ability to sleep well, a classic vicious cycle. The good news is that poor sleep is a highly treatable condition.
Eat more nutritiously
We recently discussed the importance of nutrition in maintaining brain health. We talked about studies that showed that the MIND diet has shown particular promise in helping to prevent Alzheimer’s. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease discussed how Vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acids – two of the nutrients we discussed – may boost the immune system’s ability to clear the brain of amyloid plaques, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Keep an active social life
As we age, keeping connected with family and friends continues to be critically important to our overall well-being. Several studies have shown that people who are more social get sick less and have healthier minds. A study from the Rush University Memory and Aging Project concluded that a higher level of social engagement in old age is associated with better cognitive function. According to a new study conducted at Brigham Young University, “the effect of [social isolation and loneliness] is comparable to obesity.” Lead study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad emphasizes that “we need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”