Alzheimer’s Disease is expected to impact nearly 14 million Americans by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, however, science suggests you can lower your risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits.
Research has shown lifestyle changes like improving diet and exercising regularly have helped drive down death rates from cancer, heart disease and other major diseases. These same lifestyle changes may also reduce or slow your risk of cognitive decline, often a precursor to Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Discovering risk factors and preventive strategies for cognitive decline that can cause problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment is a hot topic in Alzheimer’s research, as are multi-faceted lifestyle interventions to slow or prevent dementia. The good news? Many such interventions are things you might already be doing or thinking about doing, such as eating well, staying physically active and getting good sleep, just to name a few.
“There is increasing evidence to suggest that what is good for the heart is good for our brains,” says Keith Fargo, Ph.D., director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association. “Keeping our brains healthy is not something we should worry about only as we get older. It should be a lifelong effort.”
One easy way to encourage brain health at any age is to stimulate your mind with problem-solving challenges. Working on a jigsaw puzzle, learning a new language and playing strategy games are a few ways to strengthen your memory — as long as they are new and challenging tasks. Research has also found correlations between higher levels of formal education and a better cognitive reserve — so sign up for a class!
Another way to promote brain health is taking care of your mental health. Managing stress and anxiety is not only important for overall health and wellbeing, but studies have found a link between depression and increased risk of cognitive decline. Take care of yourself and seek medical treatment if you have symptoms.
Being social may also support brain health. That’s right. Add “hang out with friends” and “have fun” to your list of healthy habits. Better yet, take on several of these lifestyle changes for maximum impact. For example, enroll in a dance class with a friend.
Alzheimer’s researchers are now looking into whether a “cocktail” of these interventions can protect cognitive function. The Alzheimer’s Association’s U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (U.S. POINTER) is a two-year clinical trial that hopes to answer this question, and is the first such study to be conducted of a large group of Americans nationwide.
While there’s currently no certain way to prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias, there is much to be gained by living a healthy lifestyle and adopting brain health habits that you enjoy, so that you stick with them for the long haul.