According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Today, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds. By mid-century, someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds.” To date, there is no cure regarding this most common form of dementia, which affects nearly all individuals worldwide regardless of race, or socioeconomic status, a trend that continues to grow at a disturbingly alarming rate. Scientists however are close to identifying contributing factors that may hinder or help the progression of this illness in the long run.
Listed below are the top 5 factors that can contribute to this disheartening condition, including some that haven’t been clinically proven as of yet. Most, if not all, of these are well within our control.
1. Get quality sleep.
Older adults need six to eight hours of consistent sleep. During slumber, toxic proteins implicated in Alzheimer’s disease are flushed out. Sleep gives the brain and body time to restore and reboot. During sleep, your brain consolidates new information from the day and files items away into the right “brain cabinets.”
It is imperative to practice sleep hygiene in order to get quality sleep. That means keep your eyes away from screens like TVs, tablets and smartphones. Put cell phones on “do not disturb” so that they don’t ring or vibrate, waking you up. Some researchers recommend buying an alarm clock, and leaving your phone in another room. In today’s busy, high-tech world, it’s crucial we give our minds and bodies adequate rest.
2. Manage your stress levels.
Although there isn’t yet a cure for Alzheimer’s, other medical illnesses or even depression can bring about memory and concentration problems, which if unchecked can lead to dementia. High stress encourages behaviors that increase the risk of dementia. Those behaviors include but are not limited to decreased physical activity, poor eating habits, increased social isolation and self-medication through alcohol or drugs. These factors play a major role in the risk of memory disturbances.
Meanwhile, too much stress and anxiety may lead to physical changes in the brain. For example, high levels of anxiety and chronic stress can usher changes to parts of the brain that handle emotion, thinking and memory, mainly the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, whereby we process our decision making abilities. The hippocampus, our brains memory center is one of the first places Alzheimer’s attacks. But making a direct link between stress and dementia would be premature, as other factors may also be involved.
3. Connect with others.
Relationships are good for the brain and heart. Research is starting to suggest a link between social interaction and improved brain health. Being social builds connections between neurons.
It’s important to note that socializing, however, doesn’t mean binge watching Netflix with friends. Activities that make your brain work give an added benefit. For example, plan a trip with friends, visit museums with your kids, alternate walking or jogging routes with your workout partner or try something new like learning a second language with a friend. All of these novel activities stimulate parts of the brain that help to retain information, keep it sharp and resilient.
4. Eat a Mediterranean diet.
Healthy eating can delay aging in the brain and body. The Mediterranean diet in particular — plant-based foods such as nuts, legumes, fruit, vegetables, whole grains — is associated with reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s diseases, as well as other forms of dementia. Fish such as salmon and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids — the good fats. In contrast, the fat in red meat is not healthy for your heart or brain.
Healthy eating activates the brain’s metabolic pathways and improves cognitive function. It may slow or prevent Alzheimer’s disease altogether, a notion that many scientists agree on.
The brain’s processing speed can begin to decline when you’re 25. Exercise bulks up existing neurons, expedites neuronal growth and improves communication between brain cells. While some may find this hard to believe, your actions now can hurt or benefit you later on in life. According to guidelines from the surgeon general, older adults need at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week, and two or more days per week of resistance training.
What’s very interesting to note is, for example, recent studies have pointed to older adults who have no Alzheimer’s symptoms despite elevated levels of proteins linked to the disease in their brain. It’s possible that the brains of these individuals were resilient due to lifestyle choices made earlier in life. This may go to show how much of this disease may be environmental, with regards to the life choices we make.
The upside of this is that it’s never too early or too late to start making healthy lifestyle choices. What you do now simply strengthens your cognitive resilience later in life. Retain a sharp, healthy brain and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by following these five simple rules that researchers and neuroscientists alike, have culled over the last 15 years. Some of the tips are scientifically proven, while others show promise but require further investigation.