By BEAU HERMAN
Just as we have found ways to reduce heart disease risk, researchers increasingly are finding evidence that there may be steps we can take to reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s—or at least delay its onset.
Evidence is strong that people can prevent or reduce their risk of cognitive decline by making key lifestyle changes, including regular physical activity, staying socially engaged, and maintaining good heart health. This combination with a focus on early detection can have significant results.
Lifestyle Changes for Brain Health
There are steps that you can take to prevent or reverse mild cognitive impairment and improve cognitive function, performance, and brain health throughout your lifetime. Try these for reducing Alzheimer’s risk:
Regular physical exercise has been shown to lower the risk of Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. Exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow in the brain and has cardiovascular benefits. A medically approved exercise program is a valuable part of any overall wellness plan. If you exercise now, try increasing the intensity of what you do. No age is too old to start.
Studies to date suggest that keto (low carb) and Mediterranean diets may be beneficial to brain health. Current studies suggests that heart-healthy eating may also help protect the brain. Heart-healthy eating includes limiting the intake of sugar and saturated fats and making sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Two diets that have been studied and may be beneficial to lowering the risk of Alzheimer's are the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet.
The DASH diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils. The DASH diet limits sodium, sweets, sugary beverages and red meats. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat. It emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil.
There is evidence that mental challenges can produce a change in brain structure and greater resistance to aging processes at the cellular level. Keeping mentally challenged can mean crosswords, number puzzles, meeting a new person, going to a different park, reading a new book—there are many ways to challenge your mind.
Adequate, high-quality sleep
Poor sleep increases stroke risk in the brain, which is linked with Alzheimer’s. However, you can control many causes of poor sleep: caffeine, alcohol consumption, being too active before bedtime, and mobile devices, whose blue light disrupts sleep.
Uncontrolled stress keeps cortisol levels high. In the brain, cortisol can affect your memory. Along with other stress management techniques, consider mindfulness meditation, which quiets and slows the mind, helping you think more clearly and creatively. Start small, a few minutes a day. There are many good smartphone apps to help you get started.
For better brain health now and later in life, identifying things you can change now and taking steps to protect your brain. That way, after age 65, when cognitive change typically starts, your brain health is optimized giving you the best chance of preserving cognition and staving off decline.
Beau and Mercer Herman, Winter Park residents, are Certified Dementia Care Specialists and Senior Care Advisors/Owners of Assisted Living Locators Orlando Northeast, a free senior placement and referral service that helps you explore and understand eldercare options. Contact them at 407-498-2536 or visit www.assistedlivinglocators/orlando-northeast.