Lifestyle choices and Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease already affects 4.5 million Americans, more than twice the number that were affected in 1980–but that number is expected to grow significantly. By the year 2050, it’s estimated that 11.3 million to 16 million Americans may develop the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain, progressively destroying a person’s ability to learn and reason, make judgments and carry out daily activities. The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are over the age of 65 — an age after which the chances of developing the disease double every five years.  But, of course, just because you age does not mean that you will develop Alzheimer’s, and there are, in fact, known methods to prevent this epidemic disease.

Eat healthy. Your best defense against this disease appears to be in the food you eat.  A recent study published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that people who eat the recommended amount of folate have a much lower risk of developing the disease.  Folates are B-vitamins found in leafy green vegetables, oranges, legumes and bananas.

But, “Although folates appear to be more beneficial than other nutrients, the primary message is that an overall healthy diets seems to have an impact on limiting Alzheimer’s disease risk.  Antioxidant-rich foods are also extremely important.

Lead a healthy lifestyle. Things like avoiding tobacco and excess alcohol, exercising and staying socially active all are linked to a healthy brain, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  “The major way we’ve reduced the death rate from heart disease is through lifestyle changes: eating better, exercising more, smoking less,” said David A. Bennett of Rush University in Chicago. “It would require a lot of people to change the way they live, but there’s no reason to think we can’t have the same impact on Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.”

Exercise your body. As mentioned above, regular exercise is important for your brain health.   “Walking 45 minutes three times a week for six months significantly improved mental ability of older adults with no dementia; a randomly selected control group that did stretching and toning had no change,” says Arthur Kramer, a psychologist at the University of Illinois.

Exercise your mind. “Just keeping busy seems to tune the brain,” says neuropsychologist Yaakov Stern of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.   In a seven-year study of 1,800 older adults, Stern found that the more “leisure pursuits” a person had, the lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s.  Leisure pursuits included visiting friends, playing cards and going to the movies

The key is to keep your brain engaged as you age.   Try crossword puzzles, games like chess and checkers,reading, attending a lecture, volunteering or taking a class that interests you.

Avoid head injuries. Research has uncovered a strong link between serious head injury and Alzheimer’s.  You can reduce your risk of head injury by always wearing a seat belt while driving, wearing a helmet on a motorcycle or bicycle and making sure to remove tripping hazards around your home.

Try to relax and stay positive. According to the Center for Healthy Minds, elderly people who experience a lot of psychological distress (worrying, feeling insecure or nervous) are more likely to show signs of mental decline.   In fact, one study found that people prone to high levels of distress were twice as likely to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease after five years than those who were prone to low levels of distress.

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