Alzheimer’s disease affects almost 40 million people worldwide, including over 5 million Americans. One in 8 people over age 65 are afflicted with this devastating brain disease. The number increases to nearly half for those over age 85. The primary reason for the increase is people are living longer. In 1900, the average life expectancy in the US was 47 years. Today, it’s almost 80 years.
The good news is your genes may account for only a third of your risk. The other two thirds are related to lifestyle factors which you have control over. Prevention is possible. While some drugs may temporarily slow the progression of the disease, the main focus today is on prevention.
When researchers study groups of people who tend to maintain good mental health well into their nineties, certain common factors show up over and over again. They include the following.
Exercise – Of all the habits that might help prevent Alzheimer disease, exercise has the most research supporting it. Older adults who walk regularly are at lower risk for Alzheimer’s. People who exercise regularly seem to display better cognitive abilities and even have larger brains. According to one study, people who exercise regularly display lower levels of chemical markers associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Mental Stimulation – This includes reading, writing and working crossword puzzles. Ongoing research associates a lower risk of Alzheimer’s with various short term brain training activities. Other research identifies a link between lower Alzheimer’s risk and long term learning activities, such as college.
Stress Management – Several studies associate stress with cognitive decline, including poor memory and smaller brain size. Other studies strongly suggest chronic stress leads to an increased risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s and depression. , , In a recent meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, data was presented showing that, in addition to encouraging relaxation, stress reducing meditation also affects biomarkers of inflammation and telomerase activity – both associated with Alzheimer’s.
Diet – Weight management and nutrition also play major roles in brain health. Several studies show an association between obesity and dementia, including a recent twin study. Other research shows that cognitive function improves significantly in obese patients who undergo bariatric surgery.
Along with numerous other benefits:
-A Mediterranean diet high in omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s.
-Numerous studies link fruits and vegetables to improved brain health, while also showing the harmful effects of refined sugars and trans fats.
-Other studies suggest that turmeric and pomegranate may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. ,