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9 ways to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia

9 ways to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia

Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented? While you may have been told that all you can do is hope for the best, the truth is much more encouraging. Promising research shows that you can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia through a combination of healthy habits, including eating right, exercising, staying mentally and socially active, and keeping stress in check. Here are some steps you can take that may help to delay the onset of dementia:

1) Getting regular exercise: Doing regular physical exercise, whether aerobic (such as cycling or fast walking) , resistance or balance activity, is the most effective way to ward off cognitive decline in healthy older people and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Studies suggest that exercising 3-5 times a week for between 30-60 minutes is beneficial. This helps in improving both physical and mental health.

2) Maintaing a healthy diet: Eating a healthy balanced diet (including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day), not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation are found to decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. Two diets that have been studied and found to be beneficial are the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet. The DASH diet emphasizes on vegetables, fruits and fat-free or low-fat dairy products; includes whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils; and limits sodium, sweets, sugary beverages, and red meats. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats.

3) Preventing and treating Diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity: They are found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Make sure your blood pressure is checked and controlled through regular health tests. And if you have diabetes, make sure you keep to the diet and take your medication.

4) Reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease: Cardiovascular disease (disease of the heart or blood vessels) has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Vascular dementia. You may be able to reduce your risk of developing these conditions – as well as other serious problems, such as strokes and heart attacks, by taking steps to improve your cardiovascular health.

5) Preventing head Trauma: There appears to be a strong link between future risk of Alzheimer’s and serious head trauma, especially when injury involves loss of consciousness. You can help reduce this risk by protecting your head (wearing a seat belt, using a helmet when participating in sports and fall-proofing your home).

6) Staying Mentally Active: There is some evidence to suggest that rates of dementia are lower in people who remain as mentally, physically and socially active as possible throughout their lives, as well as among those who enjoy a wide range of different activities and hobbies. It may be possible to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia by: reading, writing for pleasure, learning a foreign language, playing musical instruments, taking part in adult education courses, playing tennis/golf/ or group sports such as bowling, swimming etc.

7) Getting quality Sleep: New research suggests that disrupted sleep isn’t just a symptom of Alzheimer’s, but a possible risk factor. Establish a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and getting up at the same time reinforces your natural circadian rhythms. Taking a nap can be a great way to recharge, especially for older adults. If you must nap, do it in the early afternoon, and limit it to thirty minutes. Create a relaxing bedtime ritual. Take a hot bath, do some light stretches, write in your journal, or dim the lights. As it becomes habit, your nightly ritual will send a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time for deep restorative sleep. Quiet your inner chatter. When stress, anxiety, or negative internal dialogues keep you awake, get out of bed. Try reading or relaxing in another room for twenty minutes then hop back in.

8) Managing stress: Stress that is chronic or severe takes a heavy toll on the brain, leading to shrinkage in a key memory area of the brain known as the hippocampus, hampering nerve cell growth, and increasing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Try to keep your stress level under control by following some of these:

  • Breathe! Stress alters your breathing rate and impacts oxygen levels in the brain. Quiet your stress response with deep, abdominal breathing.
  • Schedule daily relaxation activities. Keeping stress under control requires regular effort. Make relaxation a priority, whether it’s a walk in the park, playtime with your dog, yoga, or a soothing bath.
  • Nourish inner peace. Most scientists acknowledge a strong mind-body connection, and various studies associate spirituality with better brain health. Regular meditation, prayer, reflection, and religious practice may immunize you against the damaging effects of stress.
  • Make fun a priority. All work and no play is not good for your stress levels or your brain. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
  • Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.

9) Maintaining an active social life: We don’t thrive in isolation, and neither do our brains. Studies show that the more connected we are, the better we fare on tests of memory and cognition. Research shows that staying socially engaged may even protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in later life. When it comes to socializing, think quality, not quantity. In-person, face-to-face interaction is always best. Oftentimes, we become more isolated as we get older, but there are many ways to keep your support system strong and develop new friendships. To suggest few :

  • Volunteer
  • Join a club or social group
  • Visit your local community center or senior center
  • Take group classes (such as at the gym or a community college)
  • Reach out over the phone or email
  • Connect to others via social networks such as Facebook
  • Get to know your neighbors
  • Make a weekly date with friends
  • Get out (go to the movies, the park, museums, and other public places)

By leading a brain-healthy lifestyle, it is possible to lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and also slowing down the progress of the disease.

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Samvedna Senior Care, C-13 Anand Niketan, New Delhi