Can Alzheimer’s Be Prevented

Alzheimer’s occurs as a result of multiple factors that are usually present. These include age, genetics, environment, lifestyle and other co-existing medical conditions. While certain risk factors cannot be changed such as genes or age, others can be. These include high blood pressure and heart disease. Current research shows that reducing these risk factors may help to fight Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Research Studies

Less than 1 percent of people with Alzheimer’s are because of genetic mutations. These people are unfortunately guaranteed to develop the disease. Research such as the A4 trial and the DIAN trial are being conducted with people who have these mutations. They are testing whether antibodies can reduce the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque in these people. If so, the accumulation may be reduced, delayed and possible lessen the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Research is clearing showing that individuals can reduce their risk by lifestyle changes such as exercise, healthy sleep and other positive changes. The following habits, when practiced as much as possible, will provide great benefits to your brain and body.


Heart Health

Cardiovascular problems are a risk factor for developing some form of dementia. Health issues that may increase your risk include high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes. Research indicates that smoking and high cholesterol may reduce your brain volume. Autopsies also show that 80% of people with dementia have some form of cardiovascular disease.

A diet high in saturated fats can cause inflammation and insulin resistance in the brain. This may affect communication between your brain cells. You can help to reduce inflammation and improve your heart health with these tips:


Mediterranean Diet

Eating a mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. This type of diet will promote a healthy heart which in turn provides oxygen-rich blood to your brain. Your diet should include omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins C, B, D and E. These nutrients can improve mental ability and help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Foods include:

  • Vegetables, fruits (enjoy all colors to digest protective antioxidants and vitamins)
  • Whole grains (whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta and bulgur and farro)
  • Seafood (rich in omega-3 fatty acids that may reduce inflammation in the body. Also helps decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and decrease the risk of stroke and heart failure)
  • Poultry, beans and eggs
  • Moderate portions of dairy products (low-fat Greek or plain yogurt, small amounts of cheeses)
  • Limited intake of lean red meat
  • Olive oil (lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein
  • Eliminate sugar (also includes white flour, white rice, and pasta. Sugar can lead to spikes in blood sugar which inflame your brain)
  • Avoid trans fats (includes fast food, fried and packaged, which causes inflammation of the brain)
  • Drink tea (tea can enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging)
  • Supplements (folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oil)

Active Mind

Continually learning and challenging your brain throughout your senior years lessens the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that if you keep your brain active you may have lower levels of the beta-amyloid protein. This protein contributes to plaque buildup in dementia diseases. Activities such as playing an instrument, chess, or other games requiring multiple tasks could reduce the risk of dementia by up to 63 percent.

You can stimulate your mind by following some of these tips each day:

  • Learn something new such as studying a foreign language, learn to paint, read the newspaper or a stimulating book. The greater the challenge, the greater the benefit.
  • Challenge yourself by increasing skills of something you already do. If you play a musical instrument, learn a more challenging piece. If you swim, learn a different stroke or improve your speed. Do more challenging word puzzles and logic puzzles.
  • Botanical identification is a great hobby that encourages mental stimulation. As you get out and about, try and identify plants and trees. Do online research to help with your identification.
  • Arts & Crafts are a good way to use your imagination, creativity and keep your fingers nimble.
  • Online games can help to enhance memory and improve mental health. Online games are easy to find and can even be played in multi-player mode.
  •  Jigsaw puzzles are quite effective at stimulating the mind. They are also relaxing, reduce blood pressure and can even be used as a meditation technique.
  • Word and number games such as Scrabble or Sudoku and other strategy games helps to improve your capacity to form and retain cognitive associations. 

Exercise

As individuals reach the senior years, the hippocampus in the brain starts to shrink. This can lead to loss of memory and greater risk of dementia. Exercise reduces that risk by improving your cardiovascular health resulting in increased supply of blood and oxygen to the brain and keeping blood vessels healthy. Exercise can help to slow deterioration if you have already started showing signs of dementia. Exercise also stimulates the brain’s ability to maintain old connections, make new ones and improve spatial memory.

If you haven’t been active, start slowly and work up to your goal. Check with your health care provider before starting an exercise program. Here are some suggestions to encourage exercise in your lifestyle:

  • The ideal exercise plan should include approximately 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise and strength training. Brisk walking, running, swimming, cycing and other activities that increases your breathing and heart rate are the most effective.
  • Strength training is essential because it increases muscle mass and increases your strength. This will help to prevent falls and other injuries. 2-3 sessions weekly of lifting weights or using a resistance band will reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Balance and coordination exercises will help to also prevent falls. Improvements in your balance and coordination will keep you agile, limber and stretch your muscles. Yoga, Tai Chi and using balance balls are great ways to achieve this.

Quality Sleep

Research indicates that disrupted sleep may cause a buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain. This sticky brain-clogging protein in turn causes even more sleeping problems. Everyone also needs uninterrupted sleep to help flush out your brain toxins.

It’s important to understand that it’s the quality of sleep that is linked to buildup of the protein. Napping during the day doesn’t qualify because they aren’t recognized as slow-wave (deep-sleep) sleep. If your sleep habits start to change, it may be a good time for your doctor to have a look at what’s going on in your brain. Let’s now have a closer look at ways to improve your deep sleep.

  • If you snore, you should get tested for sleep apnea. It’s a condition where your breathing is disrupted during sleep. It is treatable and can have a big impact on your sleep quality. 
  • Have a schedule for when to go to bed and when to get up and stick to it 7 days a week. If you must nap during the day do it for no more than 30 minutes in the early afternoon. If you experience insomnia, eliminate your naps completely. 
  • Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only. A quiet, dark, and cool environment will help you sleep better. Leave the television and computer out of the bedroom. These are stimulating and will affect your sleep pattern.
  • Set a bedtime ritual to signal to your brain that it’s time for sleep. These could include a hot bath, writing in a journal, light reading or relaxation exercises.
  • Avoid caffeine ( coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) four to six hours before bedtime.
  • If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and try relaxing in another room for a few minutes. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep in about 20 minutes, get up and engage in a quiet, restful activity such as reading or listening to light music. When your eyelids are drooping and you are ready to sleep, return to bed.
  • Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion or heartburn.
  • Exercising during the day will help you to fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. Don’t exercise within three hours of bedtime.

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