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Preventing or Slowing the Progress of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

younger hand holding older hands

Can Alzheimer's be prevented?

By Sally Bowman, RN, quality care coordinator at Network Health
Originally published on 6/23/2021 at 1:30 p.m.

Some of the most frightening diseases are the ones that affect our abilities to process new information and remember old information. Of these diseases, Alzheimer’s and dementia are especially troubling, leading to confusion and memory loss for those affected.

Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s and many conditions that result in dementia, there are strategies you can adopt to help improve your brain as you age, reducing the risk of either and slowing the progression once diagnosed.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the biggest concerns many of us have as we get older. The thought of developing the disease can be upsetting, especially if you’ve witnessed a loved one affected by dementia. Promising research shows there are steps you can take to reduce your risk by identifying and controlling your personal risk factors and making simple, but effective, lifestyle changes.

What are the ways I can prevent Alzheimer's and dementia?

Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with multiple risk factors. Some, like your age and genetics, are outside your control. However, experts have identified seven ways to help prevent Alzheimer’s or minimize its progression.

  1. Regular exercise
  2. Social engagement
  3. Healthy diet
  4. Mental stimulation
  5. Quality sleep
  6. Stress management
  7. Vascular health

Though frequently associated with old age, experts now believe the risk of Alzheimer’s can start in the brain long before symptoms are detected, even as early as middle age. That means it’s never too early to start taking care of your brain health and focusing on the seven strategies above. Here are some great ways to stay ahead of this degenerative disease.

1. Regular exercise

According to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, regular physical exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50 percent. 

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. 

The ideal plan involves a combination of cardio exercise and strength training. Good activities for beginners include walking and swimming.

Build muscle to pump up your brain.

For those over 65, adding two to three strength sessions to your weekly routine may cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half.

Include balance and coordination exercises.

Head injuries from falls are an increasing risk as you age, which in turn increases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Try yoga, Tai Chi or exercises using balance balls.

If you’re looking for more information on how to start exercising as a beginner, our wellness coordinator, Morgan Radlinger, created the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Fitness, which you can read by clicking here.

2. Social engagement

Human beings are highly social creatures. We don’t thrive in isolation and neither do our brains. While many of us become more isolated as we get older, it’s never too late to meet others and develop new friendships.

Consider volunteering, joining a social club, take group classes, visit the senior center, get to know your neighbors and make plans for a weekly night out with friends.

3. Maintain a healthy diet

With Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation and insulin resistance injure neurons and stop communication between brain cells. By making small changes to your eating habits, however, you can help reduce this inflammation and protect your brain.

Manage your weight. 

Extra pounds are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Cut down on sugar.

Sugary foods and refined carbs such as white flour, white rice and pasta can lead to dramatic spikes in blood sugar which inflame your brain.

Enjoy a Mediterranean diet.

That means plenty of vegetables, beans, whole grains, fish and olive oil—and limited processed food.

Drink only in moderation.

Heavy alcohol consumption can dramatically raise the risk of Alzheimer’s and accelerate brain aging.

4. Mental stimulation

You’ve heard that familiar phrase “use it or lose it?” This applies to your brain health too.

Learn something new. 

Study a foreign language, practice a musical instrument or learn a new hobby courtesy of free online courses.

Practice memorization techniques. 

Creating rhymes and patterns can strengthen your memory connections.

Enjoy strategy games, puzzles and riddles. 

Do a crossword puzzle, play board games, cards or word and number games such as Scrabble or Sudoku.

 Follow the road less traveled.

Take a new route or eat with your non-dominant hand. Vary your habits regularly to create new brain pathways.

5. Quality sleep

If nightly sleep deprivation is slowing your thinking, you may be at greater risk of developing or worsening symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. To help improve your sleep, mind the following.

Establish a regular sleep schedule. 

Your brain’s clock responds to regularity and this will help train your brain to begin the settling down for sleep process every night.

Set the mood and create a relaxing bedtime habit.

Creating a relaxing bedtime habit means setting aside your nights as sacred time for the purpose of getting ready to sleep. Here are some strategies you may consider that will you help set this time aside and follow through with sleep.

  • Ban all screen time within an hour or two of going to sleep
  • Take a hot bath.
  • Listen to music that makes you feel relaxed.
  • Dim the lights around your house.
  • Read a chapter or two of a book you’re working on.

Quiet your inner chatter.

If stress and anxiety are keeping you awake, get out of bed. Try reading or writing down your stressors for 20 minutes then hop back in.

To learn more about the “whole-body” benefits of better sleep, click here.

6. Stress management

One of the more difficult things to master, stress management is a combination of addressing external stressors and finding ways to make peace with the internal pressures and anxiety that cannot be changed. Managing stress is important, however, as chronic or persistent stress can take a heavy toll on the brain. Consider stress management tools such as deep abdominal breathing, meditation, yoga, prayer, fun leisure activities and even laughter.

7. Vascular health

There’s more and more evidence to indicate that what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. Maintaining your cardiovascular health can be crucial in lowering your risk for different types of dementia, including vascular dementia.

Control your blood pressure.

High blood pressure can damage tiny blood vessels in the parts of the brain responsible for reason and memory. Check your blood pressure regularly at home and share it with your doctor during wellness visits.

Take medications your doctor recommends.

Studies show taking your antihypertensive medications lowers the risk of dementia by about one third.

Watch your cholesterol levels.

Research suggests there may be a connection between high cholesterol and Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Stop smoking.

One study found that smokers over the age of 65 have a nearly 80 percent higher risk of Alzheimer’s than those who have never smoked. When you stop smoking, the brain benefits from improved circulation almost immediately.

Alzheimer’s isn’t an inevitability as we age. Better days can always be ahead.

Alzheimer’s and dementia are significant priorities in the global medical research communities and notable strides have been made recently. Until we have a cure for the disorder, however, finding ways to prevent and manage brain issues is crucial for enjoying your best days ahead.

For more information on Alzheimer’s, dementia and how your Wisconsin-based health insurance plan can help with disease prevention and management, contact us today.

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