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Lower Your Alzheimer’s Risk with 5 Lifestyle Choices

July 09, 2020

New research published in the journal Neurology shows that memory loss and cognitive decline related to dementia can be significantly reduced with a combination of healthy lifestyles. Dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s disease, affects someone's ability to function normally in society and is a leading cause of death in the United States.

While the benefits of a healthy lifestyle are well-known for lowering the risk of dementia, this study provides some of the strongest evidence of this association to date. Furthermore, the impact was very significant. When individuals combined four to five healthy lifestyle factors, they reduced their risk of developing dementia by up to 60 percent. 

Those risk-modifying behaviors are:

  • Not smoking

  • Engaging in about 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise each week

  • Light to moderate alcohol consumption

  • Eating a high-quality Mediterranean diet

  • Engaging in late-life cognitive activities

This is encouraging news. These are by no means the only lifestyle factors that play a part. A strong social network, social interaction, higher level of education, mental activities, regular reading, bilingual status and physical exercise also are associated with a lower risk of dementia.

Common Misperceptions about Alzheimer's, Dementia 

How serious is cognitive decline? Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia and accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease progresses from mild memory loss to severe impairment, and is the sixth leading cause of death among Americans.

While Alzheimer's dementia is the most widely known, other dementia types — frontotemporal lobe dementia, Lewy body dementia, progressive supranuclear palsy, Parkinson's disease dementia and corticobasal degeneration — each present with different symptoms and are therefore managed differently. As dementia gets worse, episodes of anger, aggression and hallucinations can occur. There are effective medications to alleviate these symptoms, but no cure.

When to See a Doctor

Although scientists don’t yet understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ) lists these contributing factors

  • Age (60+)

  • Family history/genetics

  • Changes in the brain, often years before the first symptoms appear

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke, also may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s

What are the signs to look out for? Dementia can present in numerous ways: forgetting important events, confusion, getting lost in familiar places and difficulty finding words, concentrating and reasoning, and paying bills or balancing a checkbook. Many other conditions can mimic dementia such as depression, strokes, brain tumors, hypothyroidism, vitamin B12 deficiency and infections, and doctors must first rule out those. For instance, any individual experiencing confusion due to common infections such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) should be referred to a neurologist for evaluation of dementia, according to recommendations from the American Academy of Neurology.

The bottom line is if a family member notices someone repeating things often and forgetting, those are red flags to seek care. 

Other Preventions

Several diets and supplements are promoted as being preventive for dementia. These include ginkgo biloba, antioxidant vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, statins and light-to-moderate wine consumption. However, no large randomized studies have shown these significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia. As this new study shows us, the significant risk reduction for dementia depended upon the subjects adopting four to-five healthy lifestyle behaviors, rather than single factors such as diet or exercise alone.

 

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