About 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Globally, about 50 million people have it. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects these numbers to triple in the next 40 years.
While genetics play a role in your risk of developing the disease, how you live plays an even bigger part. This article offers nine ways research says you can help keep your brain healthy and drastically reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Lifestyle Changes that Drop Your Risk of Dementia
Eat Healthy. Studies show that a diet high in plants and low in red meat, saturated fats and sugar slows cognitive decline and improves memory. The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, provides the 15 nutrients your brain needs for optimal function. Green, leafy vegetables are the best food for your brain. It’s recommended you eat them at least six times a week.
Curious if you’re eating the right things while limiting harmful foods? Take this quiz from the Mayo Clinic and see how you’re doing.
Control vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. High blood pressure harms the blood vessels and brain, increasing your risk of stroke and vascular dementia. Healthy lifestyle changes like exercising, eating from the MIND diet, and smoking cessation help tremendously. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your health care provider about supplements or medication.
Likewise, high blood sugar that leads to diabetes also increases your risk of stroke, dementia, cognitive impairment, and heart disease. While a healthy lifestyle combats these risks, you may need to monitor glucose levels to manage your blood sugar.
Sleep 7-9 hours a night. Research finds that people who sleep six hours or less in their 50s and 60s are 30% more likely to develop dementia and/or Alzheimer’s Disease. Lack of sleep impairs reasoning, attention to detail, and problem solving. Scientists have also found that during sleep, the body removes a toxic protein called beta-amyloid from brain tissue. Beta-Amyloid accumulates in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s.
Lack of sleep is detrimental to your health regardless of your age. If you struggle to get 7-9 hours of good quality sleep, try these lifestyle changes for vast improvements!
Stay active and maintain a healthy weight. Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity a week helps to prevent high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and stroke, which can all contribute to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Need help working up to 150 minutes of exercise a week? This article can help you get in shape while avoiding injuries or chronic inflammation.
Stay mentally fit and connected to people. Like your body, your brain wants to be active. Learning a new hobby or skill, reading, and playing board games are a few ways to work the mind. Since isolation and loneliness are linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, volunteering or socializing with family, friends, or groups helps you stay connected.
Protect your ears and treat hearing issues. Hearing loss makes it difficult to interact with people and contributes to atrophy in the brain. Researchers find that even mild hearing loss doubles your risk of dementia.
Prevent head injuries. Traumatic brain injuries can double or quadruple your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The worse the head injury, the higher the risk increase. Repeated blows to the head, even if they don't cause concussion or seem serious, also increase the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative brain condition that causes dementia, depression, and other health problems.
Wear a helmet for athletics, a seatbelt in vehicles, and go to the doctor if you have a head injury. People who have seizures or seniors who fall easily should also consider fall-proofing the home and wearing shoes with nonskid soles.
Drink less alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption over time leads to brain damage, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, mood disorders, and memory loss. Heavy drinkers are also more likely to fall and get head injuries. Additionally, a history of heavy alcohol consumption may result in vitamin B1 deficiency and Korsakoff’s Syndrome, a non-progressive dementia.
Researchers find that people who regularly drink in excess are 300% more likely to develop early-onset dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. What’s too much alcohol? Over one drink daily for women or two for men is too much, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Get Genetic Testing. If your parents or grandparents had Alzheimer’s disease, you may also have genes that give you a higher risk. While apolipoprotein E (APOE) is the most common gene associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s, several other genes are now linked to the disease. Genetic testing is especially helpful when signs point to young-onset or early-onset dementia, according to this research.
Get a virtual memory screening. If you’re concerned about memory loss, you can get a free virtual memory screening from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA). A series of questions helps gauge memory, thinking skills, language and other intellectual functions. The test (in English or Spanish) takes 10-15 minutes. The screener will review your results when it’s done. Click here to make an appointment or call the AFA at 866-232-8484.
Memory screenings are a first step and not an indicator of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Medical conditions including vitamin deficiencies, depression, and thyroid issues can also cause memory problems and are reversible. If you have any concerns, please talk to your health care provider.