Reducing risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Science has yet to determine the causes for Alzheimer', research indicates there are “modifiable risk factors” associated with it.

While science has yet to determine the causes and cures for Alzheimer’s disease and most dementias, research indicates that there are “modifiable risk factors” associated with the disease.

These are risk factors associated with lifestyle that you can control, such as diet, exercise and your social environment.

By adopting healthy lifestyle habits, you can help reduce the overall risk that you will develop dementia in old age.

The good news is that these healthy habits are as easy and fun as learning a new dance style, eating delicious fresh fruits and vegetables and calling a friend.

Keep your mind active

According to a study by the Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, people who keep their minds active throughout their lives exhibit lower levels of beta amyloid plaque, a protein in the brain that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, this was especially true for people who were mentally active when they were younger and middle-aged.

We know that as you age, there are many brain functions that do not have to decline, such as vocabulary, decision-making, creativity and the ability to learn. Keeping your mind sharp by learning a new language or a new dance step, or by challenging yourself with word and number puzzles or memory games increases the chance that you’ll retain your learning and creative ability into old age.

Eat well and exercise regularly

Research has shown that healthy lifestyle choices such as a nutritious diet and exercise are linked to a lower overall risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but also that healthy choices are connected to fewer memory complaints across the board.

The UCLA Longevity Centre published a study this year which showed that respondents aged 18 to 99 who engaged in just one healthy behaviour were 21 per cent less likely to report memory problems than those who didn’t engage in any healthy behaviours. This was good news for respondents in the senior age group, who reported a higher number of healthy habits than those in the younger respondent groups.

Moderate exercise a few times per week, stress reduction and adequate sleep all play a part in maintaining a healthy body. A varied diet, which includes dark-coloured vegetables rich in antioxidants, such as spinach and blueberries, as well as foods with Omega 3 oils such as wild salmon, are recommended. Avoid or quit smoking to further reduce your risk.

Care for your social connections

Researchers at the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam looked at risk factors for dementia in 2,000 people aged 65 and above. They found those who felt lonely were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias than those who did not.

Doctors are careful to advise that saying that loneliness is correlated with Alzheimer’s disease does not mean the same thing as saying that loneliness causes Alzheimer’s disease. However, healthy brains do need purpose, perspective, and social connections to thrive, which is why you need to care for your spirit, too.

To improve your spirit, you need to believe in your ability to influence your own life and its outcomes. Even if you have a life-threatening illness, you still retain the ability to influence many things like your relationships with family and friends, and your ability to enjoy what you are doing in the present moment. Keeping a sense of humour and building solid friendships can help you nurture your spirit.

– Alzheimer Society of B.C.

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