5 ways to reduce your Alzheimer’s risk
Globally, around 50 million people suffer from dementia, with close to 10 million new cases being diagnosed each year. And while many accept this devastating disease as an inevitable part of growing older, this simply isn’t the case. More and more, research is pointing to the fact that the way we live has a significant effect on whether we are at risk of developing the disease.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which the World Health Organization defines as, “a syndrome – usually of a chronic or progressive nature – in which there is deterioration in cognitive function (i.e. the ability to process thought) beyond what might be expected from normal ageing.” Alzheimer’s is thought to account for roughly 60%–70% of all dementia cases.
The World Health Organization identifies three clear stages in the development of the disease.
Early stage: the early stage of dementia is often overlooked because the onset is gradual. Common symptoms include:
- losing track of the time
- becoming lost in familiar places.
Middle stage: as dementia progresses to the middle stage, the signs and symptoms become clearer and more restricting. These include:
- becoming forgetful of recent events and people’s names
- becoming lost at home
- having increasing difficulty with communication
- needing help with personal care
- experiencing behaviour changes, including wandering and repeated questioning.
Late stage: the late stage of dementia is one of near total dependence and inactivity. Memory disturbances are serious and the physical signs and symptoms become more obvious. Symptoms include:
- becoming unaware of the time and place
- having difficulty recognizing relatives and friends
- having an increasing need for assisted self-care
- having difficulty walking
- experiencing behaviour changes that may escalate and include aggression.
So, what can you do to reduce your risk of developing the disease? While a very small percentage of people are guaranteed to develop Alzheimer’s as a result of genetic mutations, there is growing evidence to suggest that in general, implementing healthy habits may help to lower your risk. Alzheimer’s Disease International offers these five strategies.
- Look after your heart
- Be physically active
- Follow a healthy diet
- Challenge your brain
- Enjoy social activity
Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.
1. Look after your heart
Research conducted post-mortem has shown that as many as 80 percent of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease also have cardiovascular disease. What’s more, according to The Alzheimer’s Association, “Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes — negatively impact your cognitive health.” It’s clear that taking care of your heart is critical when it comes to reducing your risk for Alzheimer’s, so make heart health a priority.
2. Be physically active
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that you “engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body.” How regular is regular? The generally accepted rule is 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity every day. At Evergreen, we appreciate the importance of staying physically and mentally healthy in retirement, and encourage active aging through the wide range of healthy activities on offer in our villages.
3. Follow a healthy diet
There’s an overabundance of information out there right now relating to nutrition and eating plans. As far as reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s is concerned, Dr Gad Marshall, associate medical director of clinical trials at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says in this article that following a Mediterranean diet “has been shown to help thwart Alzheimer’s or slow its progression. A recent study showed that even partial adherence to such a diet is better than nothing, which is relevant to people who may find it difficult to fully adhere to a new diet.” And if you’re wondering what constitutes a Mediterranean diet, it’s largely plant-based, includes healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, wholegrains, plenty of fish (especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines), and advocates moderate consumption of dairy, poultry, eggs and red wine and very little red meat.
4. Challenge your brain
Keeping your brain busy and healthy is always important – and even more so if you’re actively trying to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s as there is limited research that suggests a link between the two. Card games like bridge, canasta and cribbage are great ways to give your brain a boost, as are puzzles, crosswords, Sudoku and board games.
5. Enjoy social activity
There is some evidence to suggest that connecting and engaging with others helps to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. So, make plans to see friends and family and, if you’re a resident at an Evergreen Lifestyle village, take advantage of our Lifestyle Centres to connect with other residents over a game of cards or by joining one of the many hobby and interest groups that meet regularly.