Lifestyle Choices Can Help Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting memory, thinking and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease progressively destroys brain cells. There are treatments to temporarily reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s but there are no treatments to prevent, cure or slow the progression of the disease. Alzheimer’s and other dementias are not a normal part of aging but they occur most frequently after age 65.
There are three factors that determine the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s – genes, environment and lifestyle. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s is increased if a close family member has the disease. This may be due to either genetic or environmental factors. The genes that decisively determine whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s are very rare but there are genes that increase risk of the disease. Environmental risks that contribute to Alzheimer’s include air quality, exposure to toxic materials and head injuries. Genetic factors can’t be modified to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and, fortunately, most Americans have low environmental risks.
As for the third factor, lifestyle choices, there are changes that can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s risk. Identifying reasons for taking care of yourself as you age is the first step toward improving your lifestyle to mitigate the risk of Alzheimer’s. What gives you joy, what do you want to be doing in ten years, what are you grateful for? Working from these and other priorities will make it easier to stay motivated to make long lasting lifestyle changes that will help you age well.
Take Care of Your Heart
Risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure also negatively impact your brain’s health. For every heartbeat, 25% of the blood goes to the brain.
Protecting your heart will also help protect your brain. Keep track of your blood pressure, blood sugar, weight and cholesterol and work to keep them low.
Quit Smoking and Avoid Excess Alcohol
Quitting smoking and consuming less than three drinks per day helps both your heart and your brain. In a 2008 study, researchers found that heavy drinkers developed Alzheimer’s nearly 5 years earlier and heavy smokers (over one pack per day) developed the disease just over 2 years earlier than study participants who didn’t smoke or drink excessively.
Continue Your Education
Formal education has been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline. With the internet, there are plenty of ways to continue your education for free! Make a commitment to sign up for an on-line class or take a class provided in your community. You’ll learn something new and create new neural pathways that will reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Get the Right Amount of Sleep
No one knows for certain why sleep helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. One theory is that sleep helps the brain perform critical housekeeping chores with the synapses. Another theory is that sleep washes toxic substances out of the brain such as beta amyloid and tau proteins that are associated with Alzheimer’s. Lower levels of deep sleep have been associated with higher levels of the chemicals in the brain that result in Alzheimer’s. For adults over 65, the recommended amount of sleep is 7-8 hours a night. Sleeping 7-9 hours per night is recommended for adults aged 24-64. Getting too much sleep is also associated with Alzheimer’s, particularly napping. This is possibly due to lack of quality sleep. To support quality sleep, refrain from drinking alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime, get regular exercise, and keep a regular bedtime routine and sleep schedule. Eating a low-carbohydrate diet can also help improve the quality of your sleep.