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Before we dive into these 11 tips for Alzheimer’s prevention, check out these seven frightening stats:
- Alzheimer’s Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the US killing more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined (Alzheimer’s Association).
- Between 2000 and 2014, deaths from Alzheimer’s rose by 89%, while deaths from heart disease – the number one killer in the US – fell by 14%
- 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia (Alzheimer’s Association).
- More than 5 million Americans have the disease and there’s no cure (Alzheimer’s Association).
- By 2050 there will be an anticipated 13.8 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia in the US (Alzheimer’s Association).
- Nearly half of all North Americans will be affected by Alzheimer’s by the time they reach age 85 (AAN).
- The American Academy of Neurology predicts that these rates will triple over the next 40 years unless we take major preventative action.
It’s no wonder people fear losing their memory more than they fear death.
A MetLife Foundation survey found that: “Alzheimer’s disease is the second most feared disease among American adults, behind only cancer.”
Before moving onto the less scary more hopeful Alzheimer’s prevention action items that we can take, let’s briefly define Alzheimer’s disease for a better understanding.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
It’s a reduction of multiple neurotransmitters in specific areas of the brain. When we say there’s no cure, it means treatments don’t work well and doctors are only treating symptoms – when it’s too late.
Alzheimer’s has seven stages and it can be hard at work affecting your brain up to 15 years before symptoms actually appear, which is why taking preventative measures for Alzheimer’s disease is so important.
What causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
There are numerous factors that come into play when pinpointing what exactly causes Alzheimer’s, and the main contributors boil down to your:
- Age – can’t control
- Genetics – can’t control
- Coexisting medical conditions – mostly can’t control
- Environment – CAN control
- Lifestyle – CAN control
Now that we know the factors that we can actually control and improve, we can focus on how to take preventative measures for Alzheimer’s disease related to our environment and lifestyle. I’ve outlined 11 Alzheimer’s prevention tips that you can start acting on today.
11 Alzheimer’s Prevention Tips
Tip #1: Focus on personal growth
Having the growth mindset of an eternal student can help you experience major benefits in Alzheimer’s prevention. When you learn and experience something new and exciting you’ll not only build mental stimulation, but you’ll also boost your brain health.
The NIH ACTIVE study revealed to us that senior participants aged over 65 who received as little as 10 mental training sessions continue to show long-lasting improvements in cognitive functioning in daily activities 10 years later.
Just as you need to exercise your body’s other muscles, you also need to work out certain parts of your brain to strengthen cognitive mental muscles. Your prefrontal cortex (PFC) and posterior cingulate gyrus (PC) are key components for planning and organizing. The PC is one of the first areas to decline in function when memory loss hits.
In the same way that you awaken your brain’s prefrontal cortex in Mel Robbins’ 5-second rule (Life After Retirement Tip #5), apply this “brain awakening” concept to your activities of daily living. Here are some suggestions to activating your PFC:
- Mix up your daily routine: drive a different route; use your non-dominant hand; stop using a calculator. These are micro-challenges that can help create new neural pathways.
- Learn something new: study a new language or topic to challenge yourself with new ways of thinking. Be a lifelong learner.
- Immerse yourself in culture: get out of your comfort zone and think about activities that include communicating, engaging and organizing with the decision-making part of your brain.
- Play a musical instrument: playing an instrument forces you to involve multiple cognitive tasks at once, so your brain is getting a larger “full-body” workout (see Life After Retirement Tip #11).
- Memorize something interesting to you: practice memory improvement and mnemonic techniques, even with tiny micro-moments throughout the day.
- Consider brain teaser games: there’s a whole slew of them out there – Sudoku, word games, puzzles, board games, number games, cards – however, don’t focus on games alone. There’s not a lot of evidence that supports brain games as a memory care solution.
Breaking up your daily routine to avoid living your life on autopilot can be crucial to your long-term brain health.
Tip #2: Get physical
This is an obvious one for anyone concerned about their health and well-being. Regular and consistent exercise can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. When you exercise you increase the blood and oxygen flowing to your brain, which is such a simple yet key factor to maintaining your overall health.
Bonus Tip: Focus on aerobic exercises.
Gregory Panza, an exercise physiologist at Hartford Hospital, and his team, found in a study that out of 1,145 seniors who were at risk of Alzheimer’s disease, those who did only aerobic exercise had 3x better cognitive function than those who did a combo of both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises. Those who didn’t do any exercise at all actually experienced a slight cognitive decline.
Some aerobic exercise ideas:
- Start off slow with mild physical activities, like a walk, biking or swimming, and then shoot for 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week, which means more brisk cardio and strength training
- 2-3 strength training sessions each week can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s by 50%
Still feeling unmotivated?
The benefits of physical activity extend beyond just brain health. Start off slow, and just get moving…
Tip #3: Keep close tabs on your diet
Nutrition and brain health are like two peas in a pod.
The recommended Alzheimer’s prevention diet includes foods you would eat as if watching your heart. That means taking on heart-healthy eating habits like:
- More fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Berries contain high levels of anthocyanosides, which are compounds that help fight memory loss associated with brain clogging free radicals and proteins like amyloid-beta.
- More omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil, DHA), folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E magnesium
- More tea (may slow brain aging and enhance memory and mental alertness), coffee
- Less sugar, saturated fats, trans fats
- Less vitamins with iron and copper, aluminum
Two diets that have produced results for Alzheimer’s prevention are:
- Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (the DASH diet) –
- More fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils
- Less sodium, sugar and red meat
- Mediterranean diet
- More fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, shellfish, beans, nuts, olive oil and healthy fats
- Less red meat and processed foods
Bonus Tip: seriously, stay away from the sugar. There’s a major link between insulin resistance and memory loss.
A study from the Department of Neurology, University of Michigan found that:
“Brain insulin signaling plays critical roles in the regulation of food intake, body weight, reproduction, and learning and memory.”
You could go as far as saying Alzheimer’s Disease and insulin resistance of the brain is Type 3 Diabetes.
Tip #4: Focus on heart health
Piggy-backing off of the previous tip, watch your vascular health as a whole. This means watch your hypertension, blood sugar and blood pressure. Pay special attention to treating high cholesterol and diabetes, which also means watch your weight.
A study published in the journal Neurology found that obesity increases your risk of Alzheimer’s and negatively affects your brain, showing a correlation between vascular health and cognitive health. As many as 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease also have cardiovascular disease.
Looking for easy tactics you can tackle today?
Cleveland Clinic recommends these 5 things to do daily to maintain your heart health:
- Eat healthy fats and not trans fats
- Floss your teeth every day and keep up good dental hygiene
- Sleep 7-8 hours a night
- Don’t sit for too long at a time
- Stay away from secondhand smoke
Tip #5: Stay connected to people
There’s something very beneficial happening to your brain muscles when you’re socially engaged, active and stimulated.
A 2007 study by Orly Lazarov, PhD found that physical and mental stimulation decrease hallmark Alzheimer’s pathologies and instead increase communication between cells and spur new nerve cell growth.
Being social is healthy in several ways. It lowers your risk of cognitive decline, and can also mean having a strong support system and more meaningful relationships on your own terms – so long as you’re cautious of who you let into your circle of influence (see Life After Retirement Tip #15). If you surround yourself with the right circle of influence that aligns with your core values, you can enjoy like-minded friends who will propel you forward in reaching your goals. Plus, you’ll have people to count on for those tricky times when your health declines, or if you need rides to the doctor’s office, etc.
Not only can loneliness contribute to the decline of your brain activity, but it can also be a dramatically terrible thing for your overall health.
Experts warn: loneliness is deadlier than obesity and should be considered a public health risk.
US researchers reviewed 218 studies on the topic of loneliness and social isolation and found that social isolation increases someone’s risk of death by 50%, compared to obesity’s 30% risk of death.
What can you do to combat loneliness?
- Talk about it – address the issue head-on and make people, including your loved ones, aware that you’re lonely. Gransnet and Jo Cox Commision conducted a survey that found 56% of respondents have never spoken about it to anyone.
- Find a roomie – sharing your living space with someone else can help you avoid social isolation. If you don’t have anyone in your network you’d want to live with, there are services like Alycemates that match seniors up with college students and young adults as roommates.
- Meet new people – even if a simple conversation with a stranger, a positive human connection can help. Take it a step further and find new friends with common interests by joining a new recreational activity or a Meetup group.
Tip #6: Literally protect your head
Are you an active person? This is great, according to tip #2… but be careful and avoid head trauma whenever wherever possible. There’s a strong connection between serious head trauma and future risk of Alzheimer’s.
- If you’re an adventurous badass and riding a motorcycle, ziplining or playing sports, wear a helmet.
- Wear a seatbelt while in the car – it’s a law for a reason and especially useful for seniors.
- Just as you would baby-proof your home, senior-proof your home. They say as you grow older you also become younger in a sense… with your humor, playfulness and independence, etc. Roll with it, accept it and make sure there aren’t any easy triggers for making a hard fall in your house.
- Try maintaining your sense of balance with yoga, Tai Chi, balance ball exercises and other coordination activities. This is a more reliable longer-term solution to avoiding head injuries.
Tip #7: Stay away from the cigarettes
If you’re still smoking cigs in your older age, make it a serious goal to quit smoking. This one may not seem like it’s in your control, but overcoming this addiction is indeed achievable and well worth it. Smoking curtails the circulation that your brain needs.
A study conducted at the Australian National University found that smokers aged over 65 had a nearly 80% higher risk of Alzheimer’s than the seniors who never smoked.
Compared with former smokers, current smokers in the study showed an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and an increased decline in cognitive abilities.
Tip #8: Slow down on the booze
There’s research that supports the daily glass of red wine is beneficial to your health – the components in grape skins protect your brain cells from the plaque-like nature of amyloid-beta and oxidative stress… but don’t overdo it.
Like most things, over-consumed, heavy alcohol intake can severely increase your risk of Alzheimer’s and speed up the brain aging process.
Tip #9: Catch your z’s
There are so many sleep studies that support the notion that a solid night’s rest is good for your mental and physical health.
Specifically for Alzheimer’s prevention, uninterrupted sleep can help you flush out brain toxins.
What kind of brain toxins?
There are sticky proteins that can clog your brain, called amyloid-beta, which I mentioned earlier in tip #3 and tip #9. These plaque-like levels of amyloid-beta increase when you interrupt the deep sleep needed for memory formation.
Alzheimer’s patients also suffer from symptoms of insomnia, which can cause a vicious cycle, so be proactive and make it a priority to get a solid 8 hours of nightly rest.
Tip #10: Kill the stress in your life
Easier said than done and a topic that deserve its own article… but I want to emphasize how chronic stress can lead to actually shrinking a key memory area in your brain and slow nerve cell growth.
Stress isn’t good for any part of your body, nor is it good for living out a fulfilling happy purposeful life… if that’s not enough to get you fired up to transform your life into a stress-free zone, then maybe decreasing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease will push you to take action.
Tip #11: Find your zen
Meditation activates your brain’s prefrontal cortex, the key part of your brain needed for planning and organization. The posterior cingulate gyrus is also responsible for planning and organization and is one of the first areas of your brain to lose function when memory loss hits.
There was a study done at the University of Pennsylvania that followed participants with early cognitive decline for eight weeks. The researchers found practicing Kirtan Kriya (KK), a yoga and meditation technique, actually reversed memory loss and reduced anxiety, which are two hallmarks of early Alzheimer’s disease.
Here’s an image that shows the brain’s prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate gyrus grew in size after an eight-week 12-minute daily program of KK:
Of course, nothing is guaranteed to fully safeguard against Alzheimer’s. The disease will touch who it plans to touch. We’ll likely either experience the disease ourselves or be a caretaker of someone who has it.
What we can do is be ready for it, by taking preventative measures for Alzheimer’s disease and being completely cognizant and self-aware of the lifestyle decisions in our control, so we can start regenerating neural pathways.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to take this issue seriously into your own hands and do some preemptive patient-hacking before becoming a full-blown AD patient. Like most things that give you real results, the magic doesn’t happen overnight and will require a true lifestyle commitment.
I hope these 11 achievable Alzheimer’s prevention tips will help you or a loved one take incremental steps that will help your long-term health.
Which one of these Alzheimer’s prevention tips will you conquer today and make a part of your daily living?
To learn more about the aging brain, check out our comprehensive guide. Inside, you’ll find information on how to protect your brain health, exercises to keep your mind sharp, and tips for staying mentally active as you age.