June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, an important chance to learn more about a disease that affects an estimated 5.5 million people in the U.S. alone. The progressive neurological brain disorder and one of the most debilitating common forms of dementia was first diagnosed by German physician Alois Alzheimer in 1906, and has become increasingly prevalent ever since.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) notes that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease risk increases with age. In fact, research by the National Institute of Aging shows that Alzheimer’s prevalence doubles every five years after the age of 65. Symptoms of this devastating illness include memory loss, confusion, inability to recognize friends and family and perform daily tasks and a lack of interest in appearance and hygiene.
You may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. While there are no clear-cut answers, research suggests that there are steps you can take that may lower your risk. The following are some of the measures that have been shown to help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
1. Eat Brain-Boosting Foods
Eating the right foods can help lower your Alzheimer’s risk, not to mention your risk of developing a host of other chronic illnesses. A 2015 study published by the Journal of Alzheimer’s and Dementia found that people who adhered to what is known as the MIND diet were less likely to experience cognitive decline. This diet combines elements of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet and is rich in green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, fish, poultry, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil.
Ingesting foods rich in Vitamin E may also reduce your Alzheimer’s risk, as this vitamin also protects your neurons from free radicals, according to a 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Some foods rich in Vitamin E are spinach, almonds avocado, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ. Berries are also rich in antioxidants that stop inflammation and can improve brain cell function.
2. Don’t Skimp on Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation and researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine, intermittent sleep can be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Getting enough sleep is necessary for regulating the metabolic homeostasis in your brain, whereas losing sleep can increase neuron degeneration, or brain damage.
Your brain also needs adequate sleep to detoxify via its glymphatic system, and this includes the removal of toxins containing proteins linked to Alzheimer’s. Sleep deprivation may also increase stress hormones such as corticosterone, which may result in less brain cells being produced. Adults are advised to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
3. Make Exercise Part of Your Routine
Did you know that physical activity serves as mental gymnastics for your brain, since it boosts blood flow and oxygen consumption? According to the Mayo Clinic, studies reveal that those who are physically active have a lowered Alzheimer’s risk, and are less likely to decline mentally.
Working out a few times per week for 30 to 60 minutes can improve your mental alertness, memory, cognitive function and judgment. Regular physical activity may also delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, because it boosts the production of chemicals that protect your brain.
The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation recommends getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, with a combination of strength training and cardiovascular activity. To lower your Alzheimer’s risk, try incorporating aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing into your isometric sessions.
4. Keep Socially Active
Staying social can not only boost your mood, it may also help protect your brain. A study of 800 adults over 75 years old revealed that those who were more socially active had a lower Alzheimer’s risk. The chances of developing Alzheimer’s were reduced even more when the seniors combined social interaction with cognitive exercises and physical activity. Research reveals that partaking in cultural activities and forging close interpersonal relationships, served as a protective mechanism against dementia.
You could remain socially active by volunteering for good causes and community projects. Avoid early retirement if you can, and join social groups such as bridge or dancing clubs. Traveling can also help.
5. Get Your Vitamin D
While you don’t want to overdo sun exposure, catching some rays is be one way of ensuring you get enough Vitamin D – which research shows may help stave off cognitive decline. A 2015 study observing 1,600 seniors over a period of six years revealed that those who were Vitamin D deficient were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other dementias. It’s also important to note that seniors require more Vitamin D than younger adults, as their skin produces the vitamin less efficiently.
Make sure to consult your doctor about the recommended time spent outdoors and remember not to leave home without your sunscreen.