Preventing Alzheimer's: 7 Risks to Consider
Preventing Alzheimer's Disease
High blood pressure has been the one condition most often associated with reduced brain function -- particularly severe decline
Ask most people to name their biggest fear about growing old and chances are they won't say gray hair and wrinkles, but the devastating loss of their mental capacity. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementias, striking as many as 5 million Americans.
While the disease has genetic underpinnings, it's also associated with certain lifestyle factors, including diet, exercise, and level of education. So what steps can you take to help prevent it? Some recent studies suggest that eating more fruits and vegetables and less saturated fat may be the ticket. Others point to folic acid or fish oil supplements as beneficial. Still others have found that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol confers some protection.
But an expert panel recently convened by the
"The primary limitation with most of these studies is the distinction between association and causality," write the NIH experts in their "state of the science" paper published in June in the Annals of Internal Medicine. For instance, people with a higher level of education have a lower risk of Alzheimer's, but that doesn't mean going to grad school will protect you.
It could be that those individuals read more books and play more chess in their lifetime than other folks, which continually challenges their brains and has a disease-preventing effect.
Here's what the scientists concluded about the current scientific evidence concerning various factors thought to either raise or lower your Alzheimer's risk:
1. Nutrition and dietary supplements.
The scientific evidence is strongest for omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil supplements, with several studies showing an association between higher levels of omega-3's and a lower risk of cognitive decline. Still, the expert panel says there's not enough evidence to prove that taking supplements or eating more fish will protect you from Alzheimer's.
The evidence is very limited for other nutrient supplements -- like vitamins B, C, E, folate, and beta-carotene -- and for dietary changes like lowering saturated fat intake and increasing vegetable consumption.
2. Medical conditions.
High blood pressure has been the one condition most often associated with reduced brain function -- particularly severe decline. While diabetes may increase the risk of Alzheimer's somewhat, the evidence isn't as strong that the two conditions are truly linked. Studies have been scant or inconclusive for other conditions like obesity, sleep apnea, or traumatic brain injury.
3. Psychological problems.
Depression has been consistently associated with Alzheimer's but it's tough to tell which one comes first. Depressed mood can be a sign of early dementia, and the studies conducted on mood disorders and Alzheimer's haven't been able to fully establish whether depression can actually lead to dementia, according to the
4. Social connections and cognitive engagement.
There is a "robust association" between losing a spouse and cognitive decline, the expert panel says -- not exactly something we can control. How about brain games and other mentally challenging tasks? The evidence is "limited but inconsistent" that learning a new language or honing crossword puzzle skills, for example, actually protects against loss of memory or reasoning.
5. Exercise and leisure activities.
So far, there's only preliminary evidence that staying active or participating in hobbies like gardening, painting, or attending a social club helps preserve cognitive function. The evidence could grow stronger as researchers conduct more studies.
6. Smoking and drinking habits.
Smokers have a higher risk of losing brain function as they age -- that much is clear from the scientific evidence. The studies are less certain when it comes to predicting former smokers' Alzheimer's risk or the risk for those who drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
Most studies have demonstrated an increased rate of cognitive loss in elderly folks who carry the ApoE gene variation, especially on memory tasks and the ability to quickly identify objects and faces. The gene variation, though, doesn't appear to affect all areas of brain function and may not completely explain the global decline that occurs with Alzheimer's.
10 Things You Should Know About Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease and other dementias do a number on the mind and body of the individual with the disease and can also take a major toll on the health and finances of the individual's family
Cultivate a Healthy Brain Lifestyle As You Age
Brain health lifestyle can help us stay sharp as we age, and ward off the possible onset of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. While the science in this area is advancing rapidly, the message isn't getting out as quickly as it should
One Family's Saga of Alzheimer's Care
We lost him a little at a time. In 2000, my dad, then 80, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and it began: He moved off ever so slowly, calling back at us as he went, trying to keep us in his sight
Nations around the globe are staring down a rising tide of people who will grapple with the ravages of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. According to Alzheimer's Disease International, some 35.6 million people worldwide will have a form of dementia in 2010. That number is expected to nearly double every 20 years. Research is mounting that diet, exercise, and social and mental engagement play a protective role.
Alzheimer's Caregiving: Day-to-day Challenges
Harvard Health Watch
Bath time, mealtime, and bedtime are among the hardest parts of the day. The Alzheimer's disease has a profound emotional impact on the family members who must cope with a loved one's irrevocable decline.
6 Ways to Protect Yourself From Alzheimer's Disease
We all want to dodge the Alzheimer's bullet. And lucky us, Mother Nature has counterbalanced the power of our hard-wired genes by allowing multiple lifestyle choices to greatly influence our aging. Here are some factors you can take action on to help your brain stay healthy over the long term
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