Almost 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to reach 14 million by 2050. It’s a condition that affects about 10% of seniors worldwide.
With that in mind, you may be wondering if you can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, especially if you know someone who already has such conditions.
While some factors like age and genetics are beyond your control, research suggests that there are some things you can do to lower your risk.
Most of these lifestyle changes are also beneficial for your heart and your overall health, so they’re well worth the effort. Start now to maximize your chances of staying mentally and physically fit as you age.
- Eat whole foods. While no special diet is necessary, you may want to try the Mediterranean or DASH diets that are often recommended for Alzheimer’s patients. In any case, get most of your calories from vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
- Minimize empty calories. Cut down on white sugar and flour products that tend to trigger inflammation. Read labels and use healthy sweeteners like fruit and cinnamon.
- Drink tea. While there are no magic foods, many studies show that drinking tea is associated with a lower risk of dementia, especially for those with a genetic predisposition. Start your day with a cup of hot or iced tea.
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol can make the symptoms of dementia worse, and any heavy drinking can harm your brain. Seek professional help if you have trouble drinking responsibly on your own.
- Lose weight. Being overweight or obese can double or triple your risk of Alzheimer’s. Limit your portions and choose foods high in fiber.
- Work out regularly. A balanced exercise program can reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s by 45%, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. In addition to aerobics, train for strength and balance. Staying active throughout the day counts too, so take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Protect your head. Trauma to your head can lead to dementia. Wear your seatbelt and appropriate safety gear for any sports you play. Most falls occur at home, so fix any hazards like slippery area rugs or missing banisters on stairs.
- Sleep well. Dementia can interfere with sleep and lack of sleep can contribute to dementia. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of slumber a night.
- Quit smoking. Smoking may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by almost 80%. It often takes multiple attempts to quit successfully, so keep trying.
- Manage stress. Tension and anxiety take a toll on your brain and other organs. Learn to relax through deep breathing, meditation, and other practices.
- Challenge your brain. On the other hand, mental stimulation keeps your brain nimble. Solve puzzles and continue to learn. Read books and study foreign languages. Pick up new skills and hobbies. Practice doing daily tasks with your non-dominant hand.
- Stay connected. Spending time with family and friends helps too. Share meals and weekend getaways. Volunteer in your community or join a Meetup Group.
- Talk with your doctor. Your doctor can help you figure out priorities for managing your own individual risk factors. Many conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can also increase your risk for dementia, so share your concerns and ask questions.
More research is needed to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s, but there’s enough evidence to support prevention strategies like eating healthy and exercising regularly. Taking care of your brain and your heart may help you to slow down or even reverse any cognitive decline.