As of 2017, 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. That equates to about one in 8 seniors. Alzheimer's is now the 6th leading cause of death in our country, raising concerns about caring for these individuals as baby boomers continue to age.
Unless and until a cure becomes available for the many different types of dementia diagnoses, there are steps that researchers are encouraging younger people to take now in order to prevent or delay the onset of cognitive decline. These steps aren't difficult by any means, but they require a commitment to start, and to continue them on a long-term basis.
Exercise: Even 30 minutes per day of walking can be helpful. Per the Alzheimer's Research & Prevention Foundation, "regular physical exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 50 percent." Exercise has also been shown to reduce the rate of decline in those who have the disease.
It's important to seek medical advice if one hasn't been active, but beginning an exercise routine-no matter how small-is key. Once you begin to feel the positive effects of increased activity, it's only natural to add a few more minutes of walking to your day, or perhaps join a group for yoga or Tai Chi.
Food: "Your body and your mind aren't two separate systems; they're one elegant, continuous ecosystem" (Dr. Mark Hyman, Prevention). What effects one has an impact on the other, so how we feed our body can have either positive or negative brain consequences.
Some of the healthiest foods we can eat are nuts, seeds and fatty fish, such as salmon. These products contain fatty acids which help create and maintain new cell membranes. Current studies focus on thinning cell membranes, allowing the problematic protein (known to accumulate in the brain of dementia patients) to puncture and kill those cells, thus affecting memory.
To help stay attentive and alert, consume complex carbs (think beans and whole grain products). Complex carbs raise blood sugar levels slowly, allowing you to remain focused. On the other hand, simple carbs such as desserts, sugary drinks, as well as white bread, make blood sugar spike then crash, leaving one lethargic & groggy.
Brain Activity: Keeping your body-and brain-busy are essential components in the fight against Alzheimer's. Learning a new language, or simply completing crossword puzzles regularly, will help keep your brain functioning at an optimal level. Activities that require a little more effort, such as planning a garden then creating said garden will combine both exercise and brain activity!
Vitamin D: University of Southern CA scientists are studying the impact of vitamin D on plaque build-up in the brain. The researchers have found that the "sunshine" vitamin may be linked to activation of a cellular response which clears the brain of plaque. So go out and take a walk on a sunny day, and get the benefit of both-exercise and vitamin D!
Social Isolation: The effects of isolation can lead to loneliness, which can be temporary or long-lasting. According to Gary J. Kennedy, MD, "loneliness that becomes persistent causes accelerated aging with multiple health consequences, including conditions that lead to death."
Social isolation is very common among seniors. Even seniors who are located within the same locale as family don't always have regular contact with their loved ones. It's very important as we age to maintain healthy connections with friends, and stay involved in activities that keep our mind engaged. Even reading can be a group activity-join a book club.
Now that you're aware of some things you can do to decrease your chances of being affected with cognitive decline or Alzheimer's, why not call a friend for a walk? Take a drive to Bernheim Forest for a guided nature walk, or visit a museum and walk through the exhibits. Challenge yourself to a different nature trail or museum each week-and invite as many of your friends to join you that will. Celebrate by eating a healthy meal at a new restaurant you've wanted to try.
Let's guard against this debilitating disease, but enjoy ourselves while doing so!