Mark A. Mahoney
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. In most people Alzheimer’s disease (AD) symptoms first appear in their mid-60s.
The latest report by the Alzheimer’s Association (March 2020) reports an estimated 5.8 million Americans age 65 and older who have Alzheimer’s dementia today. Official death certificates recorded 122,019 deaths from AD in 2018, the latest year for which data are available, making Alzheimer’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the fifth leading cause of death among Americans age 65 and older.
Between 2000 and 2018, deaths resulting from stroke, HIV and heart disease decreased, whereas reported deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 146.2%.
Lifestyle changes: being proactive
A study in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association concluded that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline and dementia by making positive lifestyle changes.
1. Avoid brain injury.
Wear a helmet when riding a bike or playing contact sports, a seatbelt in the car and work to prevent falls.
2. Challenge yourself.
Challenging your mind has long and short-term benefits for your brain and can include anything from doing a puzzle to painting or playing a card game.
3. Eat a balanced and healthy diet.
Eating green, leafy vegetables and following specific dietary approaches (noted at the end of the column) has been shown to help reduce the risk of dementia.
4. Get quality sleep.
People with sleep disorders or those who do not get enough sleep have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
5. Maintain good cardiovascular health
Avoid diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
6. Participate in formal education, in any stage of life.
Taking a class at a local college or community center can help reduce the risk of dementia.
7. Quit smoking.
Studies have shown that quitting smoking can reduce the risk of dementia to the same as those who have not smoked. It’s not too late to quit!
8. Schedule time for cardiovascular exercise.
Cardiovascular exercise, like running or swimming, increases blood flow to the brain and raises your heart rate.
9. Stay socially engaged.
Stay involved in daily life with friends and social activities that are important to you.
10. Treat depression.
Those with a history of anxiety and depression have an increased risk of dementia. Talk to a professional and take the recommended medication, if necessary.
A note on the role of nutrition
There is extensive evidence supporting a relationship between diet and cognitive functions. Thus, nutritional approaches to prevent or slow cognitive decline could have a remarkable public health impact. Several dietary components and supplements have been examined in relation to their association with the development of cognitive decline.
A number of studies have examined the role of dietary patterns on late-life cognition, with accumulating evidence that combinations of foods and nutrients may act synergistically to provide stronger benefit than those conferred by individual dietary components. Higher adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern has been associated with decreased cognitive decline and AD as well as another dietary pattern with neuroprotective actions, the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH).
Finally, a combination of the two dietary patterns noted above the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) has provided some positive results to-date indicating that specific dietary patterns may have the potential to significantly lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). A link from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on this combination dietary approach can be found at eatrightpro.org.
More details on signs and symptoms as well as stages of Alzheimer’s disease from the NIA can be found at nia.nih.gov.
The latest report by the Alzheimer’s Association can be accessed at doi.org.
In these times of COVID-19 it pays to follow good preventive health practices. Past evidence supports the importance of a healthy dietary pattern as part of a healthy lifestyle to improve our quality of life and help avoid the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease (as well as many other diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, etc.).
Make the commitment for yourself, your family, friends and other societal members to strive for a healthier community.
Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 34 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at [email protected]
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