According to the Alzheimer's Association, over 6 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer's. Each year, 1 in 3 senior citizens die with Alzheimer's or another dementia; it is responsible for more deaths than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. With these staggering statistics, it's no surprise that scientists are urgently studying the disease to develop effective treatments to help lessen or even reverse the effects. Because the disease is so complex and multifaceted, it's unlikely that one single drug or treatment will successfully treat all people. Scientists continue to make tremendous progress, yet at this time, there is not a "cure-all" option available for Alzheimer's patients.
As we wait and hope for scientists and medical professionals to discover an effective treatment within our lifetime, there are preventative measures we can take to help reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer's in the first place. Currently, prevention at a younger age is more effective than reversing the damage later in life. Here are several daily habits you can adopt to help optimize your brain health.
A Healthy Diet
What we put into our bodies and what we eat regularly plays a vital role in functioning. If we properly fuel our bodies with whole foods and nutrient-dense selections, we will see optimal performance from our bodily systems. However, the Western Diet, or Standard American Diet (SAD), is most commonly consumed in the US. This way of eating is rooted in convenience and generally consists of processed foods, excessive amounts of sugar and sodium, refined carbohydrates, and saturated and trans fats. The daily consumption of this type of nutrition, or lack thereof, can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle and increases the risks of diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, poor heart health, and even dementia.
A balanced diet, rich in antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, and nutrient-dense foods, helps to nourish our bodies and optimize our brain health. The Mediterranean Diet is a perfect example of how we should be fueling our bodies daily. Fresh berries, dark leafy greens, spices, legumes, olive oil, and fish are just a few of the basics at the heart of this diet. In stark comparison to the SAD, the Mediterranean Diet promotes moderate consumption of poultry, egg, milk, yogurt, and rare consumption of red meat. Dr. Lisa Mosconi, well known in the Alzheimer's community for her research in prevention and mitigation, states that 1-2 servings of fish per week are associated with a 70% reduction in the risk of dementia. She's a passionate advocate for Alzheimer's prevention through a combination of proper medical care and lifestyle modifications. Mosconi's research is well known for her use of PET scans and MRIs to study the brains of at-risk individuals. To further illustrate how important nutrition is in terms of brain health, she has compared side-by-side scans of individuals who follow the SAD with those who follow the Mediterranean Diet. The scans from the SAD show significant brain shrinkage, with increased plaques and lesions, compared to the scans from the Mediterranean diet.
We often hear the importance of drinking 8 glasses of water a day, but seldom do we hear the reasoning to support it. Proper hydration strongly influences our brain function and our cognitive abilities. Our brain cells depend on water to carry out essential functions, and therefore, when we aren't adequately hydrated, we experience a decline in our brain's performance. Dehydration can lead to a lack of mental clarity (or "brain fog"), along with depression, fatigue, sleep troubles, and an inability to focus.
Staying Physically Active
Research shows that physically active individuals are at a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Though there isn't exact research to pinpoint this correlation, it's believed that the increased blood flow to the brain during exercise is responsible for the reduced risk of dementia. Experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise at least five times per week to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Remain Socially and Mentally Engaged
Our brain is a muscle, and like any other muscle in our body, it weakens if we don't regularly use it. To keep our brains nice and robust, we must constantly challenge them by reading, learning new skills, doing puzzles, listening to music, or any other activity that helps in keeping us mentally sharp.
Additionally, regular social interaction with others helps to keep you mentally healthy. Those who have strong social ties are less likely to experience loneliness, leading to depression, anxiety, and memory loss. Research shows that socially active individuals are less at risk for developing Alzheimer's or dementia.
Get a Good Night's Sleep
While we sleep, surprisingly, our brains remain incredibly active! During this time, a lot of "housekeeping" is going on upstairs. Our brains are busily reenergizing, storing new memories, and cleaning out waste or toxins while sleeping. It's recommended that we get 7 to 8 hours of consecutive sleep per night for our brains to perform optimally.
While we may not have all of the answers to cure Alzheimer's, we have a plethora of information to help us reduce the risk of developing it later in life. Our main goal, at this time, is to be proactive as opposed to reactive. By adopting a healthy lifestyle and consistently putting the above tips into practice, we can significantly reduce our chances of experiencing the adverse effects of Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia as we age.