Most bathroom cabinets are overflowing with lotions and potions to tackle the exterior signs of aging, but the real fear for many of us, is not how we’ll look in five, ten, or fifteen years. It’s the fear of dementia and, more specifically, Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association of Canada, over 747,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Worldwide, more than 44 million people are living with dementia. The greatest single risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age, with the risk of developing the disease doubling every five years after the age of 65.
Alzheimer’s disease can also affect younger people. However, it is more likely if they have certain genetic risk factors, experience traumatic brain injuries and concussions, and/or have cardiovascular disease.
So, what can you do right now to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and support brain health throughout life?
Supporting Brain Health Throughout Life
Many of the healthy lifestyle habits now known to reduce or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have added benefits for your overall health, as well as for keeping wrinkles at bay.
A few simple strategies appear to significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s onset and the speed at which the disease progresses, namely:
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle
- Eating a healthy diet
- Engaging the brain with mentally stimulating activity
- Learning new skills
- Ensuring good quality sleep
- Keeping stress in check
- Maintaining an active social life
But My Dad Had Alzheimer’s, so Isn’t it Inevitable?
Although scientists continue to look for a pharmaceutical cure for Alzheimer’s disease, no magic pill has yet been found. Looking after your brain while young, especially if you have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease, can help reduce your risk of problems later in life.
A family history of dementia increases your chances of developing the condition yourself, as does carrying the APOE4 allele. These are just risk factors, though. Your family history and genotype are not a cast-iron guarantee that you will develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. That’s because your environment and lifestyle have a large impact on how your genes are expressed, as well as other risk factors for cognitive decline. So even if you’re at high risk, you have plenty of opportunities to lower that risk and slow progression if it does develop.
Staying Active to Beat Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for roughly 60–80% of all dementia cases, with vascular dementia accounting for most other cases.
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia is to avoid a sedentary lifestyle and to engage in regular physical activity. That’s because staying active is good for cardiovascular health and reduces your chances of developing diabetes. These conditions are connected to undesirable inflammation and tissue damage, as well as poor circulatory health, which may precipitate dementia or worsen its progression. As such, keeping your blood glucose under control and your heart healthy are also good for brain health.
Moreover, head injuries from falls or sports accidents can also increase your risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. So, when you are exercising, be sure to use appropriate protective head gear and focus on exercise that improves balance and coordination.
Regular exercise can also help reduce the physiological effects of stress, boost circulatory health and mood, aid memory and creativity, and help you feel more energized, which could help you feel more motivated to make other healthy lifestyle choices.
Diet and Alzheimer’s – An Antioxidant Defence
Diet plays a key role in lowering your risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. Eating a low-glycemic, anti-inflammatory diet full of antioxidants can help protect cells, including brain cells, from degenerative changes. A key recommendation is to eat a complete Mediterranean-style diet with:
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
- Plentiful fresh vegetables and fruits
- A little oily fish
- An occasional glass of red wine
- A small amount of very dark chocolate
Essentially, you can support brain health by eating a heart-healthy diet that avoids trans fats, saturated fats from animal products, fried foods as well as overly refined and sugary foods. Research has also found that drinking 2–4 cups of white or green tea a day may help support memory and mental alertness, while antioxidants such as curcumin have been associated with benefits for cognitive health.
Relaxation, good quality sleep, and mental and social stimulation are also key factors in Alzheimer’s prevention. Make yourself a cup of tea in your favourite to-go mug, then set off for a stroll with a friend to stimulate those neurons, and keep your heart and mind happy and healthy.
 Alzheimer’s Association of Canada. Alzheimer’s and Dementia in Canada. Accessed August 2018. Available: https://www.alz.org/ca/dementia-alzheimers-canada.asp
 Alzheimer’s Association. What is Dementia? Accessed August 2018. Available: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers
 Pervin, M., Unno, K., Ohishi, T., et al. (2018). Beneficial Effects of Green Tea Catechins on Neurodegenerative Diseases. Molecules, May 29;23(6). pii: E1297.
 Reddy, P.H., Manczak, M., Yin, X., et al. (2018). Protective Effects of Indian Spice Curcumin Against Amyloid-β in Alzheimer’s Disease. J Alzheimers Dis, 61(3):843-866.