Risk Factors & Alzheimer's Disease Prevention
Ongoing research is helping us learn more about ways to maintain a healthy brain and about the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia. AD develops over many years and appears to be affected by a number of factors that may increase or decrease a person’s chances of developing the disease. While age and family history are risk factors, other things such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle are believed to have an influence as well. We can’t control some of these risk factors, but we can control others.
Ways to maintain brain health
- Manage health risks
- Eat healthy
- Get regular exercise
- Engage your brain
- Stay socially connected
Find more info about these methods of prevention below.
Alzheimer's Disease Risk Factors We Can’t Control
Age is the most important known risk factor for AD. The risk of developing the disease doubles every 5 years after age 65. Several studies estimate that up to half of all people older than 85 have AD. These facts are significant because of the growing number of people 65 and older.
Genetic risk is another factor that a person can’t control. Scientists have found genetic links to the two forms of AD-early-onset and late-onset. Finding AD risk-factor genes is essential for understanding the very early biological steps that lead to the vast majority of AD cases and for developing drugs and other prevention and treatment strategies.
5 Risk Factors We Can Control
No one can guarantee that you will not develop dementia. However, research shows that there may be things you can do to help keep your brain healthy and your memory sharp as your age.
1) Physical activity & exercise
Accumulating evidence suggests that physical activity may be good for our brains as well as our hearts, waistlines, and ability to carry out activities of daily living. Studies have found associations between physical activity and improved cognitive skills or reduced AD risk. For example, investigators looked at the relationship of physical activity and AD risk in about 1,700 adults aged 65 years and older over a 6-year period. They found that the risk of AD was 35 to 40 percent lower in those who exercised for at least 15 minutes 3 or more times a week than in those who exercised fewer than 3 times a week.
Staying physically active is healthy for your heart and your brain. The brain needs oxygen and a healthy blood supply to work at its best. Thirty minutes of exercise five or more times a week is recommended. The exercise does not need to strenuous. Find something that you enjoy and can fit into your own lifestyle. Some ideas:
- Walk or bike instead of drive
- Take the stairs rather than the elevator
- Exercise with friends … walk and chat
- Play tennis or participate in a team sport
- Dancing can be healthy and fun
- Swimming is a great low-impact exercise
- Tai Chi or yoga can help improve balance and flexibility
- Take a class!
2) Manage Health Risks
Managing your health and keeping your body healthy – especially your heart – can help keep your brain healthy. Things you can do:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol
- Stay on top of health conditions such as diabetes
- Quit smoking
3) Eat Healthy
What we eat may influence our risk for developing many conditions including Alzheimer’s or dementia. Incorporating a healthy diet into our lives is beneficial at any age.
- Eat a balanced diet with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants.
- Foods that may be especially good for your brain include: Green leafy vegetables, blueberries, broccoli and cauliflower.
- Eat healthy fats found in nuts and certain fish, such as salmon or tuna. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids may also be especially beneficial.
- Limit the amount of high fat, sugary or salty food you eat.
- Drink in moderation. Some research suggests that moderate amounts of red wine may contain healthy antioxidants.
4) Engage your brain
Exercising and challenging your brain is a great way to stay sharp. Find things that interest you and are fun. Some ideas:
- Do puzzles such as crosswords or number games
- Read books, magazines, newspapers
- Learn something new – a new language or new skill (e.g. cooking, knitting, playing an instrument, etc.)
- Try doing something in a different way (e.g. take a different route to work or try writing with your non-dominant hand)
Try this website for some brain-challenging games:
5) Stay socially connected
People who regularly engage in social activities may be less vulnerable to depression, and some research has shown that social interaction may also help keep the brain vital and healthy. Find ways to maintain friendships and stay connected to others.
- Stay active in your faith community
- Volunteer for a local charity, school, or other cause
- Join a social club or a traveling group
- Maintain healthy relationships with friends and family
To read more about Alzheimer’s prevention, visit this National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging page, titled Can Alzheimers Disease Be Prevented?