Is Alzheimer’s Preventable?
September is World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Every 66 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. One in three senior die with the disease of another form of dementia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the country and with an aging population, its impact on society will continue to grow.
And while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a team of experts created a bit of a stir this year at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference when they declared that one-third of all cases of dementia could be prevented through lifestyle changes.
So, is Alzheimer’s preventable? It’s hard to say, but there are absolutely lifestyle choices one can make to help reduce the risk and keep your brain performing at its peak.
Keep your mind active
A study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that not all people who develop beta-amyloid deposits – a destructive protein association with Alzheimer’s disease – go on to manifest the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. Results from this and previous studies led Dr. William Jagust, the study’s principle investigator, to conclude that “it’s very possible that people who spend a lifetime involved in cognitively stimulating activity have brains that are better able to adapt to potential damage.” A study conducted by Rush University found that people who engaged in mentally stimulating activities – from reading a newspaper to playing chess to learning a new skill – were 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia that someone who was mentally inactive. Arnold Scheibel, head of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute notes that “anything that’s intellectually challenging can probably serve as a kind of stimulus for dendritic growth, which means it adds to the computational reserves in the brain.” In other words, engaging your mind encourages brain cells to grow, which may lessen the effects of dementia, even where beta-amyloid deposits are present.
According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing the disease by 50 percent, a finding that John Medina, an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine, agrees with. He claims that aerobic exercise can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half. In a study that was part of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, researchers found that midlife moderate exercise reduced the likelihood of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by 39 percent; moderate exercise in late life reduced the chances of developing MCI, which increases your likelihood of developing dementia, by 32 percent.
Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston had people between the ages of 55 and 90, all of whom had MCI, do a guided meditation for 15 to 30 minutes a day and practice yoga for at least two hours a week for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, participants showed an overall improvement in cognition and well-being. Their MRIs showed a slowing of brain shrinkage and improved functional connectivity compared to the group who didn’t meditate. A study from UCLA discovered that long-term meditators had bigger brains that non-meditators. Smaller brains has been identified as a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
Get more sleep
Several studies have shown that your brain has a wonderful way of eliminating toxic waste, including beta-amyloid proteins. These studies also discovered that the system that accomplishes this feat is 10 times more active during sleep. So if you’re not getting enough quality sleep, your brain can’t eliminate waste efficiently. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that poor sleep caused more buildup of beta-amyloid proteins and that this buildup effected people’s ability to sleep well, a classic vicious cycle. The good news is that poor sleep is a highly treatable condition.
Eat more nutritiously
The brain doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Whatever is good for the body is usually good for the brain. This is particularly true with what you eat. We know that eating too much or eating the wrong kinds of food is detrimental to staying in peak physical condition. So it is with the brain. Paul Thompson, professor of neurology at UCLA’s School of Medicine, published research that found that the brains of obese seniors had about eight percent less brain volume than their normal-weight counterparts. Lower brain volume increases one’s risk for Alzheimer’s. The MIND diet –a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets – has been shown to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 53 percent.
Keep an active social life
Maintaining an active social life – whether that’s meeting a neighbor for a cup of coffee, volunteering, or joining a book club – has a positive effect on the brain. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who, in their 50s and 60s, engaged in a lot of activity had the slowest rates of memory loss. Mayo Clinic’s National Institute on Aging conducted a study that found that socializing with others made participants (who had a median age of 87) 55 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment.