5 Things You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

Protect your Brain

You can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Here are 5 places to start living a brain-healthy lifestyle.

An estimated 5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease; this number is expected to double by the year 2050 as the elderly segment of our population grows. Specifically, as Baby Boomers age, the incidence of Alzheimer's disease will proliferate. This article is directed at you, the Baby Boomer.

Also, you can use these tips to reduce your parents' risk of Alzheimer's and dementia. Since many of the tips in this article focus on staying active and connected, suggested activities are great for you and your parents to do together.

Recent research links lifestyle factors to increased cognitive functioning and decreased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. A brain-healthy lifestyle includes five important components:

  • Physical exercise
  • Mental exercise
  • Good nutrition
  • Social connection
  • Avoiding cardiovascular disease

1. Exercise your body

Recent research studies show that regular physical exercise (three to four times a week) may have significant positive effects on brain function. Specifically, you want to shoot for exercise sessions of moderate duration, 31-45 minutes each. And, if you can combine aerobics and strength and flexibility training, you'll get the greatest cognitive benefit. There are far more significant effects on brain function resulting from combining exercise programs.

While exercise benefits both males and females, studies demonstrate that females tend to experience a greater positive cognitive result from exercise than men, and that those who are 71-75 years of age experience outstanding benefits from physical exercise.

TIP: Exercise three to four times a week for 31-45 minutes at a time. Vary your workout to combine aerobics and strength and flexibility training within the same exercise session. For example, a step class that includes stretching for a warm-up, and some yoga as a cool-down is a good option.

2. Exercise your brain

Studies show that if we don't "exercise" our brains, we may actually lose brain function; for example, regular participation in activities that require higher levels of concentration or social interaction are associated with increased cognitive ability. People who engage in cognitively stimulating activities are 47 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. In addition, those who frequently engage in leisure activities such as reading, playing board games, playing a musical instrument or dancing are significantly less likely to develop dementia.

TIP: Use it or lose it. Get in the habit of doing your paper's daily crossword puzzle, or try the latest puzzle craze, Sudoku. Another option is to combine your physical and mental exercise and take a dance class.

3. Eat well

Interestingly, many studies have shown promising results regarding nutrition and brain health. For example, there seems to be a direct correlation between Vitamin E and risk reduction of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. In addition, research documents the benefits of both Vitamins C and E as a protective measure against dementia. And consuming fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and whitefish once a week has been associated with a 60 percent reduction in risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish play a key role in reducing dementia risk.

TIP: Head for the seafood counter once a week to get a boost of omega-3 fatty acids.

For more details on a brain-healthy diet, go to http://www.alz.org.

4. Stay connected

Researchers have also noted social connection as a possible dementia risk-reducing behavior. Specifically, people who become isolated are at greater risk of depression, which has been repeatedly associated with dementia. As such, remaining involved with friends and family may protect your or your parent from this loneliness cycle that can lead to dementia.

TIP: Don't let yourself become isolated. Reach out to friends and family, join a book club, volunteer, or start a new activity outside your home. If your parent doesn't drive, it's possible your city offers transportation options for seniors. Try doing a Google search under your city's name combined with "senior transportation" or contacting your local Aging and Independent Services office.

5. Keep heart healthy

Cardiovascular disease has been linked to brain health. In other words, what is good for your heart is good for your brain! Research results have documented that those with high systolic blood pressure (the top number) have a 2.3-fold greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Moreover, individuals with low levels of HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) are more than twice as likely to develop dementia compared with those who have high levels of this good kind of cholesterol.

TIP: Watch your blood pressure. This might mean lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, limiting sodium, and watching your diet.

A prescription for life

Although many questions remain about the connection between lifestyle and Alzheimer's and other dementias, the studies do give hope to those wanting to increase and improve their brain function while possibly preventing the development of Alzheimer's. Even if the research turns out not to be an all-inclusive Alzheimer’s prevention prescription, the lifestyle behaviors outlined here provide a blueprint from which to stay healthy, avoid depression, and enjoy life!

Brain-Healthy Social Connection

  • Talk on the phone
  • Send e-mails to friends and family
  • Invite family and friends over to visit
  • Sign up for classes at your senior center, church or community college
  • Attend lectures in the community
  • Volunteer for community service projects
  • Develop hobbies

Mental Exercise

  • Do crossword puzzles
  • Read books
  • Do jigsaw puzzles
  • Try some new Web sites to engage your mind
  • Play Scrabble
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Knit
  • Write in a journal
  • Listen to classical music

Cardiovascular Health

  • Control your cholesterol
  • Control your high blood pressure
  • Monitor your Diabetes
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Quit smoking
  • Physically exercise 3-4 times per week