Lifestyle Approaches to Protecting the Brain from Alzheimer’s Disease:
Is Alzheimer’s Disease hardwired into the brain’s destiny as we age? It’s a scary thought. Many people believe it’s true.
However, a great deal of hope lies with the ongoing research to help us understand the root causes and progression of Alzheimer’s and the factors that may protect the brain from this devastating illness.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, affecting a person’s memory, thinking and behavior to the point where they don’t recognize themselves and their loved ones. Approximately 5.5 million people age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s Disease. Nearly 200,000 people under age 65 have “younger-onset” AD. Symptoms start slowly and worsen over time, ultimately interfering with independent living and quality of life. Signs to look for include:
- Persistent forgetting of recently learned information and important dates or events
- Difficulty planning, problem solving, completing familiar tasks, and understanding time
- Difficulty processing visual images, object distance and contrast
- Trouble maintaining a conversation
- Social withdrawal and depression
- Changes in mood and personality, usually becoming anxious, suspicious, or confused
Scientists believe the disease process begins when protein deposits build up in brain tissue and damage nerve cells. This can evolve over 10-20 years before symptoms are noticed. While family history can increase your risk, many factors influence the onset and progression of AD. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as outlined below, may help alter your brain’s destiny.
The Brain-Body Health Connection. Several illnesses are linked to an increased risk for AD, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. To protect your mind from cognitive decline, exercise daily, eat more whole foods, learn new skills, meditate, read regularly, and get quality sleep each night.
Smart Food for Healthy Aging. Choosing fresh, nutrient rich foods is vital for brain health (and the body, too!). Select organic foods to decrease exposure to toxins that exist in conventional farming. Limit your intake of caffeine, sugar, alcohol, refined grains, and packaged foods to ensure optimal health benefits from your food.
You might also consider getting a good dose of turmeric each day. Turmeric, found in curry powder, and in mustard has been shown to help prevent the formation of the damaging amyloid plaques found s in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. India consumes 80 percent of the world’s turmeric and has the lowest Alzheimer’s rates in the world.
Manage Stress. Stress elevates hormones in the body that increase inflammation which, over time, interferes with optimal functioning and contributes to illness. Relax with yoga, mindful walking, or guided imagery to help keep these hormones in balance.
Get Your ZZs. We need just as much sleep in our elder years as in our 30s and 40s. What does change is the brain’s ability to maintain continuity and quality of sleep, particularly deep sleep. Maintaining healthy sleep habits throughout your adult life can make it easier to maintain sleep quality as you age.
A Personalized Approach, Naturally. Prevention is important, but once signs of cognitive decline are noticed, you need expert guidance. Though more long-term studies are needed, initial research shows that a personalized approach incorporating natural medicines plus lifestyle change can reverse cognitive decline for some people.
For expert guidance in developing a personalized prevention or early intervention program, consult with a lifestyle medicine physician, specializing in neurology or Alzheimer’s Disease.