by Dr. Carolyn Anderson
Alzheimer’s disease is devastating to patients and absolutely heart-wrenching to those who love and care for them. It is a tragic, neurodegenerative disorder that robs us of our wisdom, memories and our very essence. And although Alzheimer’s has no cure with limited treatment options, there are ways we can live our lives to prevent the onset of this disease.
The Reality of Alzheimer’s
First, it’s important to dispel some of the myths about Alzheimer’s. Many think it’s part of the normal aging process, yet it is more correctly defined as an age-related neurodegenerative disease. The actual prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is only 1.6% in the 65 to 74 age group, although the prevalence does increase as we age.
All too often, completely normal memory lapses lead people to fear they have Alzheimer’s. Many of my patients exhibit moments of memory lapse and become frightened that they may be “losing it” after a forgotten appointment, or a misplaced item. Alzheimer’s disease is not forgetting where you placed your car keys; it is forgetting what the car keys are for.
Studies show that fear of memory loss can actually hasten memory decline, so stress-management is just as important to our brains as it is to our bodies. There is no evidence that implies that declining cognitive function is the normal consequence of aging; there are healthy aging practices that we can follow to prevent both Alzheimer’s disease as well as the more typical mild age-related memory decline.
Tips to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Follow an anti-inflammatory diet.
There is a radically new and exciting research about age-related disease, suggesting that much of it may be the result of abnormal inflammation or abnormal activity that promotes inflammation. Curb inflammation and you can often curb disease. Achieving this calls for consuming a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and minimizing processed and fast foods. I recommend following the Anti-Inflammatory Diet by Dr. Andrew Weil, who is an expert on healthy aging.
Reduce your stress.
Cortisol, the main stress hormone released from the adrenal gland is known to be toxic to neurons in the area of the brain that is responsible for emotion and memory, specifically the hippocampus. Neutralizing and reducing stress in with simple techniques can help to minimize age related deficits in mental function and possibly even decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These include the old adage: don’t sweat the small stuff, deep breathing exercises, Tai Chi, cardio and resistance training, meditation, and yoga.
Regular exercise is so critical for ongoing health and wellness. Regular cardiovascular and strength exercises decreases the risk of many age-related diseases by reducing stress and keeping your risk of cardiovascular disease down.
Oxidative stress is one of the most significant causes of age-related disease and age-related cognitive decline. Although the effect of supplements is somewhat controversial and not the entire answer to prevention, there are three specifically associated with countering oxidative stress that may be worth exploring:
- Gingko Biloba – an extract of the leaves of the Gingko tree. It increases blood flow to the brain and is shown to slow the progression of dementia and early onset Alzheimer’s.
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) – an amino acid derivative that is expensive and the studies on it are inconclusive.
- Phosphatidyl Serine (PS) – a naturally occurring lipid that acts as a brain cell nutrient. It is thought to have a positive effect on memory and concentration and is known to be non-toxic.
Get Enough Rest
Proper sleep and rest are essential to minimize stress and allow your body to adequately repair itself and decrease the risk of age-related cognitive decline.
Keep your cardiovascular health in check.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol should be monitored by your doctor and controlled with diet and exercise modification or with medications.
Use your brain.
The more education you have, the less likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s or to experience the more normal mental decline that is associated with aging. The more new things we learn, the more neuroconnections develop between nerve cells and the brain; the result is something we call neuro-redundancy, meaning more connections can be lost or damaged without apparent loss of function.
Being mentally sharp helps you not only remember where your car keys are, but also keep some diseases at bay, including Alzheimer’s. Lifelong learning and mental gymnastics have the greatest impact; try playing bridge on a regular basis, learning a new language or a new computer program.
Following these tips will decrease your likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s disease and also help prevent many other diseases. Taking care of your body and mind is the best way to avoid the negative aspects of aging.
About the Author: Dr. Carolyn Anderson is the founder of Impowerage. Her mission in life is to empower older adults with the information they need to continue living healthy active lifestyles.