Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. While there is currently no known cure for it, research has shown that certain lifestyle changes can significantly lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
First, what exactly is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain condition that causes memory loss and affects a person’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks as well as think. This disease is the most common type of dementia that people develop, and most people are age 65 and older when they start experiencing cognitive decline.
While there is still no exact known cause, some risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease include age, gender, certain medical conditions as well as a previous traumatic brain injury or head injury.
Is Alzheimer’s disease genetic and, if so, is there genetic testing available?
Alzheimer’s doesn’t have a single genetic cause. However, there are certain genes that make you more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. It is worth noting that people who develop Alzheimer’s disease do not always have a family member who also has the disease. However, those who have a sibling or parent with Alzheimer’s have a higher risk of developing it.
Genetic tests aren’t routinely done in clinical settings to predict or diagnose the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. However, in certain circumstances, if a person has symptoms at an early age with a strong family history of Alzheimer’s, a neurologist or other medical specialist may order genetic testing for certain genes that can cause Alzheimer’s.
What lifestyle changes lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease?
- Doing aerobic exercise: Physical activity has so many benefits — including protecting you against Alzheimer’s. It keeps blood flowing in your body and can also increase the amount of natural chemicals in your body that protect your brain and memory. Getting your heart rate up with exercise also helps you manage high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol, which are all risk factors for dementia. To enjoy the brain-boosting benefits of working out, try to get in at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise — such as walking, running or swimming — four days a week.
- Quitting smoking. Smoking can cause your blood vessels and arteries to narrow and harden, which makes it difficult for blood to pass through them. This can greatly increase your chances of developing dementia because less blood is getting to your brain. Quitting smoking is one of the most straightforward lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- Staying social: You don’t have to become a total social butterfly. However, connecting with other people may play a role in keeping Alzheimer’s disease at bay. Scientists aren’t sure exactly how it works, but research suggests that staying socially active and feeling like you have emotional support from other people have a preventive affect against dementia. Consider volunteering for a cause that means a lot to you. Or, get in your aerobic exercise and enjoy connecting with friends at the same time by taking a class together at the gym.
- Maintain a healthy diet. A balanced diet plays a significant role in maintaining brain health and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Focus on incorporating the following into your meals:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fatty fish like salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds, these healthy fats support brain function.
- Antioxidants: Foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, dark leafy greens and colorful vegetables, help protect brain cells from oxidative stress.
- Healthy fats: Opt for monounsaturated fats from sources like olive oil and avocados, while minimizing saturated and trans fats found in processed foods.
- Getting quality sleep. Sleep can do everything from keeping your immune system working well to helping you maintain a healthy weight. Getting enough sleep — that means enough deep, rapid eye movement sleep — may also lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The disease causes harmful proteins called amyloid plaques to build up in your brain. When you get a restful eight hours of sleep at night, your brain has more time to efficiently clear out these plaques.
- Getting mental exercise. Physical and social workouts are wonderful, but you’ll also want to exercise your brain to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s. Like getting good sleep, mental exercise can help clear amyloid plaques from your brain. Learning new things, doing puzzles, reading, writing and enjoying a favorite hobby are all excellent ways to stimulate your mind.
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent it, adopting a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and improve overall well-being. And remember, it’s never too late to start taking steps toward a brain-healthy future.