The cognitive decline of an Alzheimer’s disease sufferer is heart-rending to family and friends. This disease is debilitating and as yet, has no certain cure. Although there is also no concrete way of predicting how Alzheimer’s will progress, recent studies show that lifestyle changes may play a significant role in deterring the disease. Preventing the onset of the disease requires therapeutic lifestyle modification early in life thereby reducing risk factors associated with the disease?
Several studies have been made in which it was concluded that lifestyle changes and social enhancement do indeed play a role in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. The Finnish Geriatric Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) conducted one such study with astounding results. All the participants selected for the study were at risk for developing Alzheimer’s due to factors like age and heart health not being optimal. Participants were given basic healthcare across the board.
Only half of the participants were given a complete lifestyle make-over and a social support system that included cognitive training, control of risk factors and social activities. When the study ended after two years, these participants were in much better health than their peers who did not benefit from an improved lifestyle and social support. These individuals not only made significant improvement in their chances of avoiding Alzheimer’s disease but also drastically enhanced their quality of life – a win-win situation.
How to Start Making Changes
Try to adapt your lifestyle to make as many of the following changes as possible:
• Decide on a daily exercise regime: Consult a physician to ensure that it is suitable to your current health status.
• Eat healthy: In recent years the so-called Mediterranean diet has become associated with optimum health and considerably lower risk of cognitive decline. It consists of fresh ingredients like vegetables, fish and uses olive oil as the main source of fat. Avoid processed foods, excessive sugar, salt and saturated fats.
• If you smoke, stop. Damaging the brain vessels in any way increases inflammation and the risk of Alzheimer’s as well as many other serious health threats.
• Get enough sleep: Sleep is good for learning and memory and lack of it can seriously impact on your mental functions.
• Take supplements, but not to excess: Deficiencies in Folate and Vitamin B12 have been proven to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. However, nothing has been conclusively proven in studies conducted on the effects of other vitamins, minerals and fatty acids.
• Finally, avoid impact to your head if possible: It is a known fact that Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) increases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s. Accidents happen but taking precautions like wearing protective headgear when engaging in sports and investing in anti-slip mats around the home is an excellent practice.
While we cannot as yet cure the disease, it is possible to lower the risk with a lifestyle overhaul. Remember the sooner you adopt a healthier lifestyle, the more likely it is to be an effective preventative measure. Programs like Sci-Brain that is developed to primarily address an objective way to optimize cognitive outcome based on reducing risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease based on Research at the Roskamp Institute.
Putting it all together.
More than any one particular activity it seems that a lifestyle that encompasses all of the above aspects is required to combat a slip into Alzheimer’s Disease. When looked at together the above recommendations look like a big change in lifestyle for some of us. One important point is that people who incorporate some of all of these aspects into their lives do much better in staving of Alzheimer’s Disease than those that that just adhere to one of them. So the message from the scientific studies is that we should adapt our lifestyles as much as we can in each of these areas to be lower our risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. That can be both challenging and fun especially when undertaken with family or friends. A positive outlook on our ability to defeat Alzheimer’s Disease by our own efforts puts us back in control of our lives and lets us not see ourselves as victims of this disease. The scientific literature more and more suggests there are many ways we can defy Alzheimer’s Disease and the more we do in each of the areas above the more successful we will be. So start now and push back the cognitive clock. Enjoy your new regimen!
4) Manage medical risk factors aggressively.
Several common disorders increase our risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and should be managed aggressively. For instance, diabetes heart disease and hypertension all increase the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. The increase risk for Alzheimer’s Disease seems to be independent of the risk these illnesses confer for stroke which can also cause dementia. It’s very important therefore to work with your physicians to control blood sugar levels, medically manage arrhythmias and other cardiac disease and maintain blood pressure within normal range. Finally, being overweight does not help any of these conditions so a weight loss program combined with the dietary guidelines above should be considered.
5) Sleep well.
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We are all aware that sleep deprivation can impact our mental functioning. A bad night’s sleep leads to errors of judgement usually because our attention is easily broken the next day. There are many benefits associated with an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Studies show for instance, that if we learn a new task early in the day and are tested on it later in the day we don’t do as well as if we learn it late in the day and are tested the next morning. This suggests that the old saying “let me sleep on it” when referring to a problem has scientific merit. We know that during sleep the brain organizes information that has been gathered during the day and consolidates memory for some of that information while discarding other irrelevant information. Thus sleep not only has beneficial functions for learning and memory, but without it we are unable to focus on the task at hand and are therefore unable to learn new information as well. If you have poor sleep patterns or frequently have interrupted sleep, seeking medical advice and receiving an evaluation in a sleep clinic is advisable.
More publications by Dr Michael Mullan
3) Mental Exercise.
There are many analogies between physical fitness and mental fitness. To stay adaptable and able to cope with stresses and body and mind must have an innate level of fitness. Just as we struggle to climb stairs if we are not physically fit, so we struggle to solve problems if we have not exercised our minds to do so. For both muscle and brain adaptability the old adage is true “use it or lose it”. Importantly, we also know that the more we have used our brains throughout life the more protected we are from developing cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease. We also know that the more we use our brains the more connections form between one neuron and the others around it. The more densely connected neurons are to each other the more they can find ways to continue to communicate when the brain is under attack for instance, from conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease and stroke.
So what should we do exactly to exercise our neurons? Essentially any use of one’s brain that requires effort is beneficial. And generally speaking, just like physical fitness, the more difficult and prolonged the task the more the brain has to physically change and grow to adapt. But also just like a physical fitness program – we are more likely to continue to work on something that is not too strenuous than if we over tax ourselves when we are more likely to abandon a program. And also just like a physical fitness program we are more likely to continue a mental fitness program if it is fun. So games of almost any description are good exercises for the brain – this includes card games, crossword puzzles, sudoku, on line games but preferably ones with elements of learning and novelty. Games in the context of social settings may be particularly stimulating because the parts of the brain engaged with social functioning are also active. More difficult but rewarding (from a cognitive fitness viewpoint) are pass-times like mathematics. Doing math mentally is particularly difficult for a lot of people but the constant mental arithmetic is a great way to expand neural connections in that part of the brain which subserves calculation. In general, it’s good to mix up mental tasks to give the brain a work out in different areas which tends to enrich connections between diverse parts of the brain – a phenomenon particularly associated with high performance. Different parts of the brain you may want to “work out” are those that deal with language (learn a new one or brush up on an old one you once learnt or just expand your mother tongue), memory (consciously memorize lists, names, news events and recall them later), visuospatial skills (mentally retrace your steps in places you’ve visited or lived in), music (take up an instrument) and attention (try several common tasks one in rapid succession forcing yourself to switch attention from one to the next).
Finally, be aware that there are more and more brain fitness programs coming available on line. Have fun exploring these but choose one that you think you will want to be using a year from now.