Last Updated on December 31, 2020
Alzheimer’s is one of the most feared diseases of modern times and for very good reasons. It not only causes brain cells to gradually degenerate, but it also has a huge impact on the patient’s relatives and closed ones as they watch the disease develop from mere difficulty in remembering recent events (the most common Alzheimer symptom) to complete disorientation and long-term memory loss.
The disease affects about 6% of people above 65 years old, and there are currently 5.8 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States of America – that number is expected to rise to 14 million in the next 30 years. Alzheimer’s disease makes up about 65% of dementia cases and is one of the most financially costly conditions in developed countries. In the last year, it has cost the United States government more than 290 billion dollars.
Since there is no known treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and life expectancy after diagnosis ranges from 3 to 10 years, it is very important to work on its prevention. As with most conditions, adopting healthy lifestyle habits is the way to go. Read on.
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Abruptly adopting a healthy diet is far from being an easy task. That is exactly why there should be a strong focus on educating people for a healthy lifestyle so that those habits start being built from a young age. The benefits of a balanced and healthy diet (such as the Mediterranean diet) in preventing dementia were already vastly studied. But a recent study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia has collected significant data from over 900 people between the ages of 58 and 98, which lead the team of researchers to develop the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) plan. It is a diet that they believe may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by more than 50%. It can be easily divided into brain-healthy foods and unhealthy food groups. Foods to eat: green leafy vegetables, nuts (a tasty and healthy snack), berries, whole grains, beans, poultry, fish, olive oil, red wine (no more than one glass per day!). Foods to avoid: red meat, butter, cheese, pastries, fried food. The importance of combining regular exercising with a healthy diet cannot be stressed enough, as those are two crucial habits one must have to reach an advanced age with the physical and mental strength to enjoy life’s final stage fully.
2. Physical activity
Being physically active will improve your health significantly by reducing stress, the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and strengthening the muscles (among many other benefits). But you already know that. What you may not know is that physical activity is also important for the brain. Several studies have shown that people who exercise regularly are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Medical experts recommend about 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercising at least three times a week. This routine will help your brain in maintaining healthy blood flow, increasing the production of protective chemicals, and countering the reduction in brain connections that are part of the aging process.
Recent Alzheimer’s disease research suggests that poor sleep quality (sleeping less than six hours per night or suffering from insomnia) is linked with greater levels of tau tangles and amyloid plaques in the brain, two characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. If you often have trouble sleeping, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor so they can help you find the cause and recommend you proper treatment – that may include seeing a therapist. You should consistently sleep for 7 – 8 hours a night (depending on your personal needs), keep a regular bedtime routine, and avoid drinking any form of caffeine or alcohol near bedtime. These habits are also key to improve your mental health. Other lifestyle improvements can help you fight the development of Alzheimer’s disease but whose benefits are not properly supported by strong medical evidence:
Learning new things and engaging in intellectually stimulating activities is a great way to improve brain health and can potentially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to some studies. Reading books, playing games (puzzles, board games, videogames, etc.) and musical instruments, and constantly learning new skills (such as a second language, for example) improves neural functioning and can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Social interactions can be just as important as learning a new skill or keeping an adequate sleeping schedule, especially as we age. They force us to constantly do some form of mental exercise that is extremely important for reducing the risk of cognitive decline. Volunteering is a great way to maintain meaningful social interactions while simultaneously contributing to a cause that you deeply care about.
It is not clear yet if moderate alcohol consumption (red wine more specifically) has any effect in protecting against the development of dementia. Some studies suggest that people who drink one glass a day are better protected from dementia than those who don’t drink at all. But these are far from being conclusive since they were not performed on humans, and they should not be seen as a recommendation for alcohol consumption. The truth is that the risks of drinking alcohol regularly (even if in small doses) outweigh any potential benefits. But if you enjoy drinking a glass of red wine with dinner, it probably won’t hurt you much as long as you keep a generally healthy lifestyle.