Researchers say there are certain lifestyle measures we can take to reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and dementia, including being physically active, eating a healthy and balanced diet, maintaining good cardiovascular health, and exercising the brain.
The Alzheimer's association says we need more scientifically based large-scale studies to back up some of the proposed measures, but research so far has been promising
The incidence of dementia, including Alzheimer's is expected to grow as lifespans increase. A study carried out by the RAND Corporation and published in NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) (April 2013 issue) reported that the economic burden of dementia in the USA could double by 2040. This rising rate of dementia and Alzheimer's has fuelled efforts to find prevention strategies
Experts from the University of California, San Francisco, said that over 50% of all Alzheimer's cases may be prevented through lifestyle changes. This involves reducing important risk factors, including
being physically and mentally active
combating low education
properly treating or preventing chronic diseases and conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high blood cholesterol, diabetes, obesity in mid life, and depression
Canadian expert, Dr. Kenneth Rockwood of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, explained in the journal Neurology that if you pay attention to health factors not traditionally linked to dementia, such as vision, hearing, or how well dentures fit, you may also reduce the risk of developing dementia
If it is good for your heart it is good for your brain
Several studies have shown that the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia is higher among people who have diseases and conditions that damage cardiovascular health, i.e. the health of the blood vessels and the heart. Examples include hypertension (high blood pressure), atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol. We know that bad heart habits reduce brain volume
The Alzheimer's Association says that up to 80% of autopsies on people who had Alzheimer's disease show that they also had cardiovascular disease
Experts are not sure why some patients with the hallmark Alzheimer's plaques and tangles never developed Alzheimer's symptoms while they were alive. Perhaps in these cases symptoms only appear if the patient also has some kind of vascular disease.
If this is the case, and most experts believe it probably is, controlling cardiovascular risk factors could be one of the best ways to protect patients from developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
High cholesterol raises Alzheimer's risk - a team led by Kensuke Sasaki, MD, PhD, from Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, demonstrated a close association between high cholesterol levels and senile plaques, which are common among people with Alzheimer's disease. The study was published in Neurology (September 2011 issue)
Women with metabolic syndrome are more likely to develop dementia, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco reported in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association)
Metabolic syndrome refers to a cluster of conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar levels - they all occur simultaneously and increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
Metabolic syndrome can be treated with good diet, exercise, weight loss and some medications. People with metabolic syndrome who are able to reach their ideal weight, bring down their blood pressure and cholesterol to healthy levels, and control their blood sugar will not only reduce their risk of diabetes and cardiovascular events, but also dementia and Alzheimer's disease
Obesity in old age undermines male cognitive function - a study of 3,000 elderly men and women found an association between obesity and poorer thinking and memory skills among the obese males, but not the females.
Obesity in middle age raises dementia risk later on - Dr Annette L Fitzpatrick of the University of Washington, Seattle, found that 75 year-old people who were obese when they were 50 had a higher chance of developing dementia. However, they also found that being underweight when elderly increased the likelihood of dementia.
Diabetes considerably increases risk of dementia - diabetes is a risk factor for dementia, researchers from Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, reported in the journal Neurology (September 2011 issue).
Senior author, Yutaka Kiyohara, MD, PhD, said "Our findings emphasize the need to consider diabetes as a potential risk factor for dementia. Diabetes is a common disorder, and the number of people with it has been growing in recent years all over the world. Controlling diabetes is now more important than ever."
The team found that patients with diabetes had double the risk of developing Alzheimer's and other dementias, including vascular dementia. Other studies suggested that patients with the best diabetes control had the lowest risk of dementia. If you have diabetes and wish to minimize your risk, follow your treatment regimen carefully. However, one study suggested that intensive blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes does not slow cognitive decline.
Diet to prevent Alzheimer's disease and dementia
Researchers have found that a healthy and well balanced diet helps brain health because of its impact on heart health. A healthy heart provides the brain with plenty of oxygen-rich blood. A study published in Neuron found that heart disease risk scores are closely linked to the likelihood of cognitive decline.
The Mediterranean diet protects aging brains - a diet which includes olive oil as the main source of fat, plus plenty of fruits, vegetables, pulses (legumes), a moderate-to-high amount of fish/seafood, low quantity of dairy products and red meat, and moderate amounts of wine has been shown to protect older people at risk of vascular dementia, scientists from the University of Navarra, Spain, reported. Vascular dementia occurs when blood vessels which provide the brain with oxygen are damaged - the brain becomes deprived of oxygen.
Their study was published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry (May 2013 issue). The authors added that the Mediterranean diet appears to be more effective in protecting the brain health of seniors compared to a low-fat diet, which is typically recommended for stroke and heart attack patients.
Eating too much bad for memory in seniors - researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, showed that people over 70 years of age who ate in excess of 2,100 calories per day almost doubled their risk of mild cognitive impairment. Study author Yonas E. Geda, MD, MSc, said "We observed a dose-response pattern which simply means; the higher the amount of calories consumed each day, the higher the risk of MCI."
Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins C, B, D, E improve mental ability - a study carried out by a team at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland demonstrated. Dr. Gene Bowman and colleagues also found that diets high in trans fats were more likely to encourage brain shrinkage.
Eating fish once a week reduces risk of Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment - the researchers, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said that those who ate baked or broiled fish at least once a week "had better preservation of gray matter volume on MRI in brain areas at risk for Alzheimer's disease."
In this video below, Carl W. Cotman, Ph.D., explains how a diet rich in antioxidants and regular exercise may benefit the brain.