The best way to reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia is to keep your brain healthy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dementia Care Central, research has shown that you can accomplish this by making the following adjustments to your lifestyle.
The good news is that many of these adjustments will simultaneously reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. That’s because there’s a proven connection between heart health and having a strong brain.
Consider following a Mediterranean diet that emphasizes plant-based foods, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil. It has less red meat and salt than a typical North American diet.
Staying physically active on a regular basis means you’re less likely to experience a decline in mental function. It’s believed this is because there’s increased blood flow to the brain during exercise. You don’t necessarily have to work out at the gym. Walking, swimming, playing tennis, or other activities that get your heart rate up work just as well. You should aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise several times a week. Regular physical activity also helps reduce the risk of depression and anxiety and can help you sleep better.
It will not only benefit your brain but also reduce your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related illnesses.
This is especially important if you have diabetes. Diet and physical activity play important roles.
Again, staying physically active and eating a Mediterranean diet can help here.
Another instance where heart / circulatory health and brain health go hand-in-hand.
It’s important to try to get seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Some theories suggest that sleep helps clear abnormal proteins from the brain and consolidates memories which boosts your overall memory and brain health. Some people struggle to sleep through the night because they have sleep apnea and may not even know it. (Essentially they stop breathing and repeatedly wake themselves up.) But once their problem is diagnosed and they get treatment (e.g. start using a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine), their sleep patterns improve. This can have more immediate mental health benefits as well.
You can stimulate your mind by doing things like solving puzzles, learning something new, reading challenging material, playing board games, playing a musical instrument, or dancing. Evidence suggests that people over 60 who regularly solve puzzles or do other similar activities have an easier time with daily tasks like organizing and cooking. However, research does not show a clear link between brain games and reduced risk of dementia the way it does for diet and physical exercise. For that reason, be wary of paid brain-training programs that claim to help with dementia. Scientific research does not back them up.
Head injury, particularly repeated concussions, is associated with an increased risk for dementia. Things you can do to protect your head include wearing a seat belt, eliminating tripping hazards in your home, wearing a helmet during sports (including cycling), or entirely avoiding sports (such as horseback riding, hockey, and football) that involve possible repeated injury to the head.
Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to connect with loved ones, friends, and others, especially if you live alone. Social activities might include things like volunteering, joining a walking group, joining a book club, dancing, or taking classes.