Today, there is growing evidence that it is possible to take preventative steps that may lower your risk or delay Alzheimer’s disease. Research has shown that like the body, the brain must remain healthy in order to age successfully. The key to maintaining this “cognitive vitality” lies in protecting the brain’s nerve cells (neurons) from damage, essentially the same strategies which enable people to achieve good physical health:
1. Manage chronic illnesses. Chronic diseases like thyroid disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes are risk factors for cognitive decline. Older adults should get their eyes and ears checked regularly because sensory problems can indicate cognitive decline.
2. Polypharmacy: manage your medications. Many medications impair cognitive function and can interact in dangerous ways. Periodically review all your medications with your physician, both prescription and non-prescription drugs and supplements. Do not assume that a supplement is safe just because it is “natural” or sold over the counter.
3. Eat smart. For cognitive health, a balanced, low fat, low calorie diet with five servings of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables per day is recommended. Deficiency in vitamins D or B12 or the omega-3 fatty acid DHA may impair cognitive health and increase the risk of dementia. Good sources of DHA include salmon, herring, mackerel, lake trout, and sardines but generally not fried fish, shellfish, or tilapia. Learn more about the scientific evidence on whether natural products, supplements, and available drugs are safe or effective at reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease through the ADDF’s new Aging & Alzheimer’s Prevention Program.
4. Exercise your body to protect your brain. Exercise is critical to brain health in many ways. To maintain cognitive vitality, adults should engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes duration, 3-5 days per week.
5. Sleep well and regularly. A good night’s sleep is essential to cognitive health. Maintain a regular sleep schedule, establish a bedtime routine, use the bedroom only for sleep and sex, avoid food and exercise within 2-3 hours of bedtime, and avoid sleeping pills.
6. Reduce stress and learn ways to cope. Prolonged stress causes fatigue, disturbed sleep, poor concentration, and memory lapses. Chronically high levels of stress hormones suppress the immune system and kill brain cells. Protect yourself by changing your lifestyle to reduce stress and learning ways to cope.
7. Get help for depression, anxiety, grief, or loneliness. Depression may cause cognitive impairment, such as memory loss and difficulty paying attention. It is generally treatable with medications and psychotherapy.
8. Engage in the world. A rich and stimulating work and social environment helps maintain cognitive health. Adults of all ages should limit the number of hours they spend alone and socially isolated.
9. Never stop learning. Continue to stimulate and build your brain throughout life by tackling new activities and learning new skills. Education, at any age, may protect against cognitive decline.
10. Support drug discovery. Ultimately, aging is the most important risk factor for dementia. Scientists are working hard to develop new therapies to treat cognitive aging and dementia. You can help in the fight.