Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. This is a startling statistic, and it’s a primary reason why brain health and memory loss weigh heavily on the minds of many older adults. There is currently no cure for the disease, and some people have a genetic predisposition to developing this form of dementia, so what can we do to fight back? How can we proactively prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
We don’t yet have definitive answers to all of our questions, but research provides some important clues.
Genetics and Alzheimer’s Disease
First, the bad news. According to the National Institute on Aging, there are some strong genetic markers that significantly increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The gene found to be the strongest predictor for this form of dementia is ApoE. We all carry two copies of this gene, but those with the variety ApoE4 have triple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. At present time, nothing can be done to change this or reduce the genetic risk.
Reducing Your Risk
Now the good news. There are things we can do to reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease even when genetic risks are taken into account. New findings presented at the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in July have shed some light on the impact of healthy lifestyle choices on a person’s risk of developing dementia.
Lifestyle Changes and Alzheimer’s Disease
The findings shared last month were discovered during a University of Exeter in England research project that followed 196,383 adults age 60 and over in the years between 2006 and 2010 with follow up in 2016 and 2017. According to Elzbieta Kuzma, PhD and research fellow at the University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health, the study looked at a combination of lifestyle factors and found that favorable lifestyle choices reduced the risk of dementia by 32% in those with high genetic risk compared to unfavorable lifestyle choices which did not have the same positive effect. This information is exciting both because of the size of the study and the way in which it attributes a reduction in risk to proactive choices that we can all make.
Links have also been found between mental and social activity and a person’s risk of developing dementia. Essentially, people who live more active lives, have stronger social connections and continue to use their brains and bodies in a healthy way lower their risk despite age-relate changes to the brain.
What You Can Do
Things that you can do to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s starting today include following a healthy diet. Eat whole grains, lean meats and plenty of fruits and vegetables. As much as possible, avoid saturated fats and high sugar foods. Regardless of your age, it’s also important to stay active. A brisk walk three times a week is a healthy choice. If you prefer, try a yoga class, take up swimming or invest in a bicycle. Finally, if you consume alcohol, drink in moderation, and avoid smoking, or if you currently smoke, quit.
We still cannot prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease, but research like this is promising. Whether you’re a senior citizen or a young adult, it’s important to keep your brain active, form those healthy social connections, eat well, exercise and treat your body right. Take these actionable steps and increase your potential of enjoying a higher quality of life today and in the future.