How to Reduce Your Risk and Protect Your Brain as
For many years, we've been told that there's
little we can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other types of
dementia but hope for the best and wait for a pharmaceutical cure.
But the truth is you can reduce your risk by eating right,
exercising, staying mentally and socially active, and keeping stress
in check. By leading a brain-healthy lifestyle, you may be able to
prevent Alzheimer’s symptoms and slow down, or even reverse, the
process of deterioration.
Alzheimer’s & dementia prevention pillar #2: Healthy diet
Just like the rest of your body, your brain needs a nutritious diet to operate at its best. Focus on eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats.
Eating habits that reduce inflammation and provide a steady supply of fuel are best. These food tips will keep you protected:
Follow a Mediterranean diet. Eating a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet rich in fish, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, and abundant fresh produce. Treat yourself to the occasional glass of red wine and square of dark chocolate.
Avoid trans fats and saturated fats. Reduce your consumption by avoiding full-fat dairy products, red meat, fast food, fried foods, and packaged and processed foods.
Eat a heart-healthy diet. What’s good for the heart is also good for the brain, so by reducing your risk of heart disease, you also lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Get plenty of omega-3 fats. Evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Food sources include cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, and sardines. You can also supplement with fish oil.
Eat 4-6 small meals throughout the day, rather than 3 large meals. Eating at regular intervals helps to maintain consistent blood sugar levels. Also avoid refined carbohydrates high in sugar and white flour, which rapidly spike glucose levels and inflame your brain.
Eat across the rainbow. Emphasize fruits and vegetables across the color spectrum to maximize protective antioxidants and vitamins. Daily servings of berries and green leafy vegetables should be part of your brain-protective regimen.
Enjoy daily cups of tea. Regular consumption of green tea may enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging. White and oolong teas are also particularly brain healthy. Drinking 2-4 cups daily has proven benefits. Although not as powerful as tea, coffee also confers brain benefits.
Eat to protect glial cells
Researchers believe that glial cells may help remove debris and toxins from the brain that can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Consuming foods such as ginger, green tea, fatty fish, soy products, blueberries, and other dark berries may protect these important cells from damage.
What about supplements?
Folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oil are believed to preserve and improve brain health. Studies of vitamin E, ginkgo biloba, coenzyme Q10, and turmeric have yielded less conclusive results, but may also be beneficial in the prevention or delay of Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms.
Talk to your doctor about medication interactions, and review current literature to make a personal decision about the costs and benefits of dietary supplements.
Give up smoking and drink in moderation
Smoking and heavy drinking are two of the most preventable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Not only does smoking increase the odds for those over 65 by nearly 79 percent, researchers at Miami’s Mt. Sinai Medical Center warn that a combination of these two behaviors reduces the age of Alzheimer’s onset by six to seven years.
When you stop smoking, the brain benefits from improved circulation almost immediately, no matter your age. However, brain changes from alcohol abuse can only be reversed in their early stages.
Those who continue learning new things throughout life and challenging their brains are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, so make it a point to stay mentally active. In essence, you need to “use it or lose it.”
Activities involving multiple tasks or requiring communication, interaction, and organization offer the greatest protection. Set aside time each day to stimulate your brain. Cross-training with these brain-boosting activities will help keep you mentally sharp:
Learn something new. Study a foreign language, learn sign language, practice a musical instrument, read the newspaper or a good book, or take up a new hobby. The greater the novelty and challenge, the larger the deposit in your brain reserves.
Practice memorization. Start with something short, progressing to something a little more involved, such as the 50 U.S. state capitals. Create rhymes and patterns to strengthen your memory connections.
Enjoy strategy games, puzzles, and riddles. Brain teasers and strategy games provide a great mental workout and build your capacity to form and retain cognitive associations. Do a crossword puzzle, play board games or cards, or work word and number games, such as Scrabble or Sudoku.
Practice the 5 W’s. Observe and report like a crime detective. Keep a “Who, What, Where, When, and Why” list of your daily experiences. Capturing visual details keeps your neurons firing.
Follow the road less traveled. Take a new route, eat with your non-dominant hand, rearrange your computer file system. Vary your habits regularly to create new brain pathways.
Mental exercises have long-lasting benefits for seniors
In a groundbreaking study, older adults who received as few as 10 sessions of mental training not only improved their cognitive functioning in daily activities in the months after the training, but continued to show long-lasting improvements 10 years later.
The ACTIVE study of 2,832 seniors involved 60-75 minute training sessions in memory, reasoning, or speed of processing, using exercises such as memorizing lists, detecting patterns in number series, and operating a touch-screen program.
Ten years after the training, nearly three-quarters of the participants who received reasoning training and over 70 percent of speed-trained participants were still performing tasks above their pre-trial baseline level, compared to about 62 and 49 percent of control participants.
While there was not the same improvement in memory performance, the results highlight the importance of mental training in delaying the onset of functional symptoms of dementia.