Abigail Fenton 21st September 2018
There are approximately 50 million people worldwide living with dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common form, accounting for 60-70% of all dementia cases, figures from Alzheimer’s Disease International show.
While research is not yet conclusive, certain lifestyle choices may help support brain health and prevent Alzhiemer’s. Last year, a review by scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) found that as many as one in three cases of Alzheimer’s may have been preventable through lifestyle changes.
Today, on World Alzheimer’s Day, we’re taking a look at the ways you may be able to decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
People with Alzheimer’s often have trouble sleeping, but, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health, insomnia and disrupted snoozing aren’t just symptoms of the disease — they’re potential risk factors. Losing sleep leads to an increase of beta-amyloid — a sticky brain protein associated with many forms of dementia. Beta-amyloid clogs up the brain and interferes with deep sleep, which is necessary for memory consolidation.
Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep, per night, in order to function at their best. If sleep deprivation is compromising your mental performance, or making you depressed and irritable during the day, you may be at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Bed is for sleep and sex, not working, watching TV or browsing the web
Try to stick to a regular sleep cycle. Your brain is a creature of habit, so going to bed and waking up at the same time, every day, reinforces your natural circadian rhythms — or, your body’s clock. If sleep is a nightly struggle, eliminate stimuli that increase alertness. Bed is for sleep and sex, not for working, balancing chequebooks, watching TV or browsing the web. (You can even have sex other places! Spice up your life while preventing dementia; it’s a win-win.) Stimulus control helps your mind re-associate your bedroom with sleep.
Keep daytime naps short, as more than 20 minutes can affect the quality of your night-time sleep, and implement some bedtime rituals, like journaling or having a hot bath. Again, the brain responds to regularity, so having pre-sleep habits will help signal to your brain that it’s time to start shutting down. If stress or anxiety keeps you tossing and turning all night, try getting out of bed for 20 minutes and relaxing elsewhere. Then, tuck yourself back in. If stress and anxiety are persistent pests, consider seeking professional help.
Science has conclusively linked diet to dementia, several times, now. In particular, research by the Alzheimer’s Society suggests that there’s a strong link between metabolic disorders such as a diabetes, obesity and hypertension, and Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Though that link is not yet fully understood, watching what you eat can help protect your mind.
Consider cutting down on sugar and refined carbs. Delicious as they may be, sweets, white rice and pasta spike blood sugars, which inflame the brain and inhibit communication between cells. Additionally, leading research at UC San Francisco links trans fats that are found in fried, processed foods and baked goods, to memory loss. This is possibly due to the way that trans fats effect cells, reducing blood flow to important areas of the brain.
Never before has taking care of yourself felt so good
Healthy omega-3 fats, on the other hand, reduce nasty beta amyloids, thus, helping prevent Alzheimer’s. Omega-3 is mostly found in fish, like mackerel, salmon and herring. However, if you don’t eat anything with a face, chia seeds, Brussels sprouts, soy and walnuts are good alternatives. A Mediterranean diet, consisting primarily of these omega-3 rich proteins, whole grains and veggies from all across the colour spectrum, is the most effective one to reduce risk of developing memory problems.
In the best news ever to hit both the UK and China, the 2016 Longitudinal Aging Study showed that tea drinkers have a 50% lower risk of dementia. That’s right, regular tea consumption enhances your memory. White, green and oolongs are particularly effective, but any tea will help. At least two cuppas a day, but, preferably, four, is the sweet spot. Never before has taking care of yourself felt so gosh darn good.
Excising your brain is just as important as excising your body. Those who continue to challenge themselves, intellectually, are far less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. A ten-year study by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute for Nursing Research found that older adults who participated in just 10 sessions of mental training for memory, reasoning and speed of processing, improved mental function in their day-to-day lives and continued to show lasting improvement, a decade later on.
Practice the five W’s: who, what, where, when, why
Brain teasers and strategy games that challenge memory and mental agility can be extremely effective in building your ability to retain cognitive associations. So, do some crosswords puzzles, play board games and try your hand at Scrabble and Sudoku. Practice memorisation, creating rhymes and patterns to strengthen your memory connections, and, in everyday situations, pay attention to the the five W’s: who, what, where, when, why. Being observant keeps your neurons firing.
Additionally, learning new things or raising the bar for existing activities, helps. Studying a foreign language, learning to play an instrument and taking up arts and crafts are great ways to create new brain pathways, but if you have no desire to try something new, improving your skills at something you already do and enjoy works, too. If you can play the piano, learn a new song. If you’re an artist, try working in a different medium. The greater the challenge, the greater the benefit.
Regular exercise isn’t just good for your body, it’s good for your mind. According to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50%. What’s more, frequent exercise slows down deterioration in those who have already begun to experience a decline in cognitive function.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that those aged 65 and over engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, per week. Aerobics, cardio and strength/resistance training are all linked to maintaining brain health. So, walking, jogging, dancing, swimming, tennis and weight-lifting are just a couple of ways that you can get your work out on, while also helping yourself out, mentally. For those aged 65 and over, 2-3 strength sessions a week can cut the risk of Alzheimer’s in half.
Balance and coordination exercises lower the risk of falls, which often result in head injuries that cause Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, later in life. Studies by Duke University Medical Center show that young adults who sustain a moderate-to-severe head injury are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The worse the injury, the higher the risk. Yoga and Tai Chi can improve steadiness, agility and mobility by targeting all the psychical components needed to stay stable.
Abigail Fenton 21st September 2018