In mid-July, 2017, the Alzheimer’s Association hosted a week-long international conference in London, England. This event was the largest gathering of researchers from around the world focusing on progressive brain disease. An estimated 47 million individuals world-wide are living with dementia, and those numbers could more than double by mid-century. While a cure for Alzheimer’s and related dementia has yet to be found, researchers have determined some specific correlations between lifestyle and an individual’s risk for brain disease.
Much of this “new” information has a familiar ring. “Exercise, eat healthy, and watch your blood sugar.” These well-known heart healthy factors may also serve as excellent protectors for the brain. Researchers at the international conference revealed nine specific lifestyle factors that could reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. These positive changes are all part of a healthy lifestyle that may also ward-off heart disease, reduce your risk of cancer, and increase your overall quality of life. And, for individuals who are already experiencing dementia symptoms, these nine lifestyle changes could work to slow the progression of brain disease.
- Manage hearing loss. As individuals grow older, loss of hearing can impact the ability to socialize and may lead to isolation and depression. These are all risk factors for dementia. Have your hearing checked, and use a hearing aid to help maintain a socially active lifestyle.
- Continue learning. Individuals who start early and continue to learn new things throughout their lives build a multitude of connections in their brain. These connections form a cognitive reserve that helps the brain to continue to function well, despite possible damage in later life.
- Stop smoking. A healthy heart leads to a healthy brain. It is never too late to stop smoking and begin a heart-healthy lifestyle.
- Manage depression. Failing to seek help for depression can lead to social isolation, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise. Depression is common among older adults who often deal with loss of independence and chronic health issues. Treatment for depression can help to reduce the risk of dementia.
- Stay physically active. Exercise is an important factor in reducing the risk of dementia. Not only will daily exercise improve one’s overall health, but it also serves to reduce depression and increase mental function.
- Cultivate social contacts. Older adults are often socially isolated due to physical disability, lack of transportation, or friends and family moving away. The brain in isolation is vulnerable to disease. Social activity and engagement are important factors in maintaining brain health and improving quality of life.
- Control high blood pressure. An elevated blood pressure can lead to heart attack or stroke, which puts the individual at risk for Vascular Dementia, a progressive brain disease.
- Maintain normal weight. Individuals who are significantly overweight are at a higher risk of heart attack or stroke thereby increasing the risk of dementia.
- Manage diabetes. Researchers are studying the link between high blood sugar and dementia. We now know that higher blood glucose levels are associated with a greater risk of dementia. Some researchers are even terming Alzheimer’s as Diabetes Type 3.
These common-sense approaches to a healthy lifestyle serve as a part of the puzzle in the quest for a life free from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. It is never to late to stat your healthy habits for a brain-fit life!