Take These 5 Steps Today to Slow Alzheimer's
It's estimated about 6 million Americans currently have Alzheimer's disease. Every 65 seconds, someone is diagnosed with this brain disorder, which slowly ravages a person's memory and eventually destroys their ability to think.
The number of people with Alzheimer's is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. By 2050, it will reach nearly 14 million, according to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research.
What's worse, Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., ahead of breast cancer, prostate cancer and essential hypertension combined. Alarmingly, deaths due to Alzheimer's skyrocketed 145 percent between 2000 and 2017.
However, for individuals who have a family history of Alzheimer's, there are some concrete steps you can take to help you retain your memory and other faculties as long as possible.
1. Work out your mind
Studies show people who continue to use their cognitive ability as they age are better equipped to stave off its decline.
One systematic review published in the journal International Psychogeriatrics in 2016 looked at five meta-studies on cognitive leisure activities (e.g., doing puzzles, playing board games, learning a language, learning to play an instrument) and the future risk of dementia. Across the board, researchers found people who participated in these kinds of activities experienced a lower risk of dementia.
It's important to note the results identified people who participated in these activities across their lifetime as having the lowest risk, so sign up for guitar lessons or pick up a 1,000-piece puzzle of Big Ben sooner rather than later.
2. Work out your body
Exercise has long been shown to help with slowing physical decline in a variety of ways. But in recent years, the benefits of physical exercise in fighting mental decline as well have been studied more thoroughly.
Now researchers are looking directly at the effects of exercise on the development of dementia like Alzheimer's. A 2014 meta-study covering two decades of research, also published in International Psychogeriatrics, showed exercise has a positive effect on slowing the rate of cognitive decline.
3. Get socialized
People on the front lines of senior care have long promoted the value of social interaction for their elderly patients, especially people facing cognitive decline.
One study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in 2019 looked at 217 older adults in live-in communities. They found lower social engagement was associated with more severe cognitive decline in participants who had higher amyloid beta levels, a pathologic marker of Alzheimer's disease.
4. Eat like a Roman
Studies show a Mediterranean diet—plenty of fish, fruit, veggies, nuts, olive oil rather than butter, legumes and whole grains—can have a positive impact on the development of Alzheimer's disease.
Research published in Biomed Research International showed a healthy diet like the one outlined above, along with light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and less red meat, slowed the development of Alzheimer's.
What's more, the researchers note, obesity is also associated with Alzheimer's. Attacking the disorder on two fronts at once can help you hang onto your cognitive abilities.
5. Manage your blood pressure
Hypertension appears to be another risk factor for Alzheimer's.
Taking steps to control your blood pressure appears to slow the development of Alzheimer's, according to a study published in the American Heart Association Journal. But getting a head start on managing hypertension while you're still young seems to be key.
While Alzheimer's is a neurological disorder that's largely out of our control, we're learning more about how it functions every day.
These simple behavioral changes can help reduce your risk of developing the disease—plus make you healthier overall along the way.